A Life in Progress

How I Lived the Best Life I Could In The Face of a Challenging Diagnosis

This is a story of perseverance, overcoming obstacles and following dreams. Not really. Well to some degree the following dreams part is right. But essentially, this is just a story of my life.

When I graduated high school, I decided to take a gap year. This turned into 9 gap years, which I spent working in record stores and partying.

When I was 27, I had a surprise pregnancy. My boyfriend and I hadn’t been together very long but we decided to make a go of it. This lasted until my son was 9 months old when we amicably went our separate ways.

My Life Changed

When my son was 3 years old, my mother and I became concerned over his lack of vocabulary. The word “autism” was bandied around by friends and neighbours but my only frame of reference at the time was the movie “Rain Man”. Of course I didn’t see any similarities. Nonetheless, we had him checked out and he was officially diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) when he was 4 years old.

I went through a period of “mourning”. Crying over the future my son probably wouldn’t have. Things like marriage or children or even university might not be a possibility. I came to grips quickly and knew that the most important thing was for him to have the happiest, fullest life possible. Regardless of my or societal expectations.

So, a plethora of experts came into our lives: occupational therapists, speech therapists, audiologists, and support workers and so on.

I spent some time on welfare (not my proudest moment) and worked for a period of time in a Vet Clinic that catered to cats. My work hours however, meant only spending time with my son briefly in the morning. So back on welfare I went.

Search for a Career

I found myself thinking about my son’s class having a Career Day someday and his mother didn’t even have one. This thought encouraged me to explore my career options. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted to be proud of myself.

I was taking a Continuing Education English class and my teacher recommended that I get my BA. She said, “it will open doors”. So I applied as a mature student, got a student loan, and spent 4 years working on a degree in Anthropology.

I knew that because I was a single mother raising a son with autism that it would be difficult to work as an anthropologist so I set my sights on becoming a librarian. For reasons. So I spent 2 years obtaining my Masters in Library Sciences. I wanted to work in an academic library but because I was raising my son, I didn’t have the time to do my studies and work at the same time so I grabbed the first job that came my way. In a public library.

I dragged my son across the country and worked for a large public library system for 3 years before tucking my tail between my legs and moving back home. I worked for 7 years in another large public library system closer to home.

Life Still Changing

We’ve now come to the present. I had a bit of a meltdown and quit my job. I’m currently sponging off of my mother and am about to go back to school to get a second Masters. This one in Museum Studies.

Throughout my school and librarian careers, a familiar refrain was, “you’re so brave”. A single mother with a son with autism putting herself through school. My response was always a shrug of my shoulders and brushing off the compliment (but being Canadian, always with a polite “thank you”).

I just lived my life. I just took it one day at a time. I did what was necessary to give my son and myself the best life I could and hopefully this included a little happiness. The Museum Studies is my last ditch effort at following a dream. I love libraries but adore museums. It’s a risk, especially since I am now 50, but life itself is full of risks.

The moral of the story is; if I can do it, anyone can do it. I don’t want to look back on my life with major regrets. My son is an adult now and we have a great relationship. I hope I’ve been a good role model for him. I’m not perfect, but who is?

Kathryn Copeland is a lapsed librarian and a Masters of Museum Studies candidate. She has a passion for helping people and she’s planning to launch into Freelance Writing and Editing. When not thinking about museums and writing, she’s enjoying eating Haagen Dazs and spending time with her son.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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