A Mother's Message for Autism Acceptance Month

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A Mother's Message for Autism Acceptance Month

“Tucker has a really good sense of humor. He loves to do impressions. He likes to be a prankster. He takes after his dad that way. And his empathy always catches me off guard. He’s a pretty cool dude.”

As Patti Hawkey, Midco’s Director of Human Resources, describes her son, it’s easy to hear the emotions in her voice. There’s joy and laughter and the tiniest hint of exasperation that can be found in any parent with a house full of teenagers. But the underlying current through every word is profound pride in Tucker and the man he is today.

“He was nonverbal. He didn’t talk at all. And now he’s fully verbal. It really took a lot for him to be here,” explained Hawkey.

Tucker is now 20, but around his third birthday, he was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism. Patti and her husband had noticed their oldest wasn’t keeping pace with typical developmental milestones.

“We were noticing a lack in speech,” recounted Hawkey. “There just wasn’t a lot of interest when people left and came into a room. He wasn’t really engaging with other kids and was just kind of indifferent.”

The Hawkeys started out with speech therapy, but what really made a difference in Tucker’s life was the arrival of his little sister Ryen.

“She is a really big part of his story,” stated Hawkey. “When you get a diagnosis, our first thing is how do we do things differently, which you do need that, but a one-year-old just sees the same brother she had the day before. So, she doesn’t do anything different. And honestly, that was a little bit of an eye-opener. It was our ’Aha!’ moment that the world wasn’t turned upside down. He’s still the kid he was the day before.”

Tucker and Patty.png

Patti Hawkey, Midco Director of Human Resources, and her son Tucker. 

Navigating assumptions and defying expectations.

As Tucker grew and developed, Hawkey’s worries turned to his future and how he would be treated by others.

“One of your biggest fears, when you’re getting a diagnosis, is if will he make connections. Will people accept him? Will he be able to bond with people?” Hawkey questioned. “He’s very straightforward. He says the thing that everyone is thinking but won’t say. And I have a lot of anxiety over that because by looking at him, it isn’t clear that he has a disability, and he may be unfairly judged simply based of his words without knowing or understanding the full picture. He looks like a typically developing individual, but he may say something that comes across as inappropriate or rude.”

And from these experiences, Hawkey formed her call to action.

“You never know if someone has a disability, struggling to cope with a very challenging time in their life or if they are just having a bad day,” explained Hawkey. “We don’t walk around with our hurt and worries and our weaknesses plastered on us. To me, it’s about extending kindness and grace and assuming good intentions regardless. That comes with more awareness, but it comes with a bigger message. Kindness is just needed across the board.”

Thankfully, Tucker has fallen in with a good community through his involvement with Teachwell Solutions and his job at Josiah’s Coffeehouse and Café in Sioux Falls, SD. There he gets to make those connections that Hawkey had worried weren’t possible.

“Autism is a huge spectrum. It’s huge!” stated Hawkey. “I think a lot of people would think that he wouldn’t relate well to people, but he needs people more than you would ever know. He just loves it there. They treat him so well. He gets to talk to the customers. He feels completely accepted. It was pretty remarkable to see.”

Lessons from listening deeply.

Finding that community support has also been essential for Hawkey. She's able to trust and rely on her team and leaders at Midco. She is also on the internal Belonging at Midco team, which aims to create an environment of belonging where all team members feel safe, have a voice and can be themselves.

“We want to have a supportive and inclusive culture where you are really listening with empathy,” explained Hawkey. “That will be the best thing you can do because you are empowering them to share if they want or just allowing them to feel supported.”

Raising a son with autism has also helped her bring meaningful conversations about creating an equitable environment to the leadership table.

“As a leader, don’t make decisions for that person because you know of their circumstances,” stated Hawkey. “You don’t want someone to think, ‘Oh, did I just say something that is going to be career-limiting? Did I just reveal too much?’ I feel like Midco has done a really good job of not making decisions with my family or personal life in mind. I don’t feel like I’ve been held back from opportunities. That’s fair and equitable.”

She also acknowledges that she found a company that not only speaks of work/life balance but truly means it.

“Mornings can be very hectic when you’re trying to get four kids out the door that are all at that age where getting them out of bed is a challenge,” laughed Hawkey. “And sometimes I just need to reset after everyone has left. Midco is great about it. They are just like do what you need to do. Take care of your family. Take care of yourself. And while I think most employers will tell you that, to really mean it is something else.”

Be genuine.

Hawkey knows that sometimes people are curious about autism and what it means for her son and her family. She also understands that people often don’t know what to say.

“When I say my son has autism or is autistic, I don’t want anyone to tell me they’re sorry,” stated Hawkey. “Every parent views this differently but for me, it’s okay to not say anything, and it’s okay to say that you don’t know much about autism, and it’s okay to ask questions. And I’m also very gracious and understanding that people just want to show you that they’ve heard you and that they care. In whatever you say, just be genuine.”


Start on a new (career) path.

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