Photographer + Mom, Kerlyn Van Gelder, On The 3 Pieces Of Advice She Would Give To A (New) Special Needs Mom

Keryln is the mom to a beautiful four-year-old boy with autism. She is passionate about sharing her experience on how she became the best advocate for her son. 

By PJ Feinstein

Kerlyn Van Gelder and her husband, Justin, first noticed that their son, Kane, was showing signs of atypical behavior when he was about nine months old. “He wouldn’t look us in the eye or react to his name, he didn’t talk, he frequently flapped his arms and spun in circles when he learned to walk,” she says. Concerned, Kerlyn and Justin started Kane with speech therapy at 18 months old before seeking out the expertise of a specialist. When he was two and half years old, Kane was officially diagnosed with autism. “It was a sigh of relief because we finally had somewhere to start in helping him with his needs,” says Kerlyn.

Tips for raising a child with autism

We talked to Kerlyn, a Corpus Christi photographer, about what it’s like to raise a four year old with autism and the ways that she and her family find joy in their daily lives.

What 5 words best describe you? 

Strong, independent, thoughtful, empathetic, hard-working

What's the most difficult thing about raising a child with special needs? 

For us at times, it can be isolating in more ways than one. We’ve really had to evaluate how we spend our time since our family time is very limited and who we spend that time with. There have been people in our lives who outright haven’t believed in our son’s ASD diagnosis, those who don’t take into consideration his special needs, or others who aren’t accepting of his differences. It was a tough pill to swallow, but on the other end of that we are surrounded people who love Kane, support him in so many ways, and are rooting for him every step of the way!

What's one amazing thing you wish people knew about your child?

I think that would be how silly he is! He loves to look at himself in the mirror and make faces, or he’ll just start dancing out of nowhere, and he loves to get us to chase him around the house. He enjoys loud sounds and chaos, which is probably unlike most children with autism. 

Do you or Kane have any favorite apps?  

As a photographer, I enjoy apps that help me share a bit of our lives through photos - VSCO, Instagram, Unfold, or 1SE are some of my favorites. Kane’s SPED teacher uses Class DOJO which I love, I can see pictures of what he’s working on and hear about how he’s doing throughout the day. Kane loves puzzles, so he likes the Tiny Hands apps, but he also enjoys Roller Coaster Tycoon for creating, and Storybots or Youtube for videos.

best apps for a child with autism

Where is your family's happy place? 

We love to spend our free time outside anywhere that’s near water and also enjoy a lazy sunday evening on the couch together, watching one of Kane’s favorite movies.

What self-care rituals help keep you sane? 

The one I like to do the most is travel as a family, couple, or solo! Taking little weekend trips together or vacations is such a breath of fresh air and a break from our scheduled lives.

Who are your 3 favorite moms to follow on Instagram?

@motherjamfar - I love how open she is about her motherhood journey - she shares the incredible things about being a mom, the honest struggles we all go through, and advocating for things I believe in as well (body acceptance, normalizing breastfeeding, teaching kindness to our children).

@danceypantsdisco - Her photos inspire me to always get outside with my son, to enjoy nature together and appreciate the beauty around us. I think it’s easy for us as a family to get so busy in our daily schedules, that it’s nice to be reminded about the importance of adventure, even in our own backyard.

@adridelacruz_photographer - I am blessed to call Adri friend and she is such an inspiration in so many ways, from her photography, to her kindness, and the amazing community she has created for fellow photographers. She is always pushing for acceptance and uplifting women everywhere!

What TV show/book/podcast are you current obsessed with?

I recently just binge watched You on Netflix and am now I’m reading the book!

best advice for special needs parents

What advice would you give a new special needs mom?

Keep advocating for your child - I believe it’s my job to ensure a better a future for my son, whether that was pushing for a proper diagnosis, better resources, or sharing our story so others can understand and be accepting of his differences!

Give your child freedom - I still struggle with being a helicopter mom sometimes for different reasons, but I am learning to let go and allow the things he’s learned in therapy to guide him in making the right decisions.

Don’t measure your child’s progress in the day to day - I was doing that recently and felt the burden of regression. After a visit with my family in Oregon, they commented on how far he had come. I took a step back and opened my eyes to all his hard work and progress over not only the past six months but since before his diagnosis.