When Robin and John Kirton, of Salt Lake City, married 12 years ago, they agreed that they wanted a big family. They got it: Their six children now range in age from 4 to 15. What they didn't plan was that all of their kids would have autism, a brain disorder that affects social and communication skills.
"When we first found out, we went through a grieving period and still have times when we feel overwhelmed," John says. But despite the challenges of raising their unique family, the couple maintains a positive outlook. Here, they offer advice to anyone facing tough times.
There's a reason for everything.
"We believe that kids are sent to certain families for a reason, and God thought we were up to the task. We've gone from being depressed to realizing that there is a higher purpose," John says.
Let go of what's not important.
"I used to like having things a certain way around the house, but when you have autistic children, you learn to let that go. Now I can enjoy eating dinner with my wife with a pile of clothes on one side and cereal on the floor, and just zone it out," John explains.
Find joy in the small things.
"I watch Ammon (age 5), for example. He loves playing with blocks and shapes. He can play for an hour and be completely entertained," he says.
Share your knowledge.
The Kirtons help parents of autistic kids make sense of their situation by blogging on their website, Autismbites.com, and responding to e-mails about the condition.
Keep your sense of humor.
"Sometimes, if we didn't laugh, we'd cry," John says.