Collins family collinsJason and Lori Collins are high school sweethearts who have been married for 15 years. They have five children and three of them are autistic.

My husband Jason and I were high school sweethearts; we have been married for 15 years. When we got married we had dreams and visions of how our suburban life would be, but things do not always go according to plan. Our first son Austin was born in 1994. After his first birthday, I started noticing something was different about him.

By the time he was 18 months old, I was pregnant again and searching frantically for answers. Why wasn't my son talking; why didn't he look me in the eye; why did he just seem to be in a world of his own, every minute of the day?

At 24 months I finally saw a program on TV about autism and I knew that was my answer. Two months later, I took my son to a neuropsychologist who confirmed what I already knew; my baby boy had autism. It was the worst day of my life, yet in my heart I was happy to know there was a reason my son had all of these behaviors; it was not our parenting skills.

The doctor assured me that the baby boy I was due with in one month would not have autism; it was "very rare" to have another child with autism. My son Jackson was born in 1996, and he seemed to develop typically. My husband and I decided to have one more baby, so that Jackson would be able to have a typical sibling relationship. When I was three months pregnant with my third child, I watched as Jackson quickly regressed and lost all of his language. Within a few months he started demonstrating severe echolalia and repeated lines from movies for hours. When I was eight months pregnant with my third son, Jackson was diagnosed with autism. Dakota was born in 1998 and as soon as he could sit up in his crib he would rock back and fourth as hard as he could. I tried to tell myself he was fine but I knew living in denial wasn't going to help him, and I started him in an early intervention program at ten months. Dakota was diagnosed with autism at 18 months.

My husband had a vasectomy and eight weeks later I realized I was pregnant. Believe it or not, this was the hardest time of our lives. It was harder than each of the boys getting diagnosed. I was so afraid of having another child with autism, even though autism was all I knew. My entire pregnancy was filled with fear. 24 weeks into my pregnancy they told me I was having twin girls. The twins were born in 2001 and their first year honestly was a blur. I examined their every spoken word, every show of joint attention, every interaction … Would they be fine? Would they have autism? It was all-consuming. By three years old, I realized they were developing typically and were not going to regress and then I finally started to relax.

I spent every moment since Austin was diagnosed trying to make my boys the best they can possibly be, which for each of them means something different. The boys having autism has made me a better person. I am no longer judgmental of any situation. I have more patience than I ever thought possible. I am strong. I focus on staying positive and happy everyday, even when the days are hard and exhausting. I have met so many awesome, wonderful people; people I would have never met otherwise. Wonderful teachers and therapists work tirelessly for my boys and share with me even the smallest victories. Having three brothers with autism is not easy for my twins, but they are amazing little sisters. They love their brothers so much. They were my true miracles; even though I couldn't see it at the time, I know it now. Life with three severely autistic boys is hard, we have a happy life. We surround ourselves with positive, strong people who shower our family with love. We try and make each day the best that it can be; we continue to live a full and rich life. My sons have taught me to appreciate every victory in life no matter how small