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Meet Olympia Megrikyan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Olympia Megrikyan.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Olympia. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Hi, I’m Olympia, the creator of Essie’s Journey: Beyond the Spectrum! I grew up in Glendale, CA. and I am of Armenian descent. I am married to the love of my life and I have two beautiful daughters. We are an intensely tight knit family, and we always move as a unit. Here is a quick history lesson on me… Growing up, I was always the kid that defended other kids from being bullied. I had zero tolerance for bullying in any way, shape or form! I always had a soft heart for kids with special needs and would always try to protect the kids that could not fend for themselves or didn’t have a voice.

During my teenage years, and while discovering the financial pressures that were heavily weighed on my mother, I was required to mature faster than my peers. As fate would have it, I got a job working at a car dealership where I met my now husband. I got married, and soon after I was pregnant with my first baby girl at the age of 21. Essie was born in 2011, and then came my second daughter, Katharina in 2013. I was a young stay at home mom, raising two kids while my husband was building up his career and ensuring our future.

A few years into motherhood, I started noticing that my first born, Essie, was acting differently compared to other toddlers her age. Simple things such as not responding when we would call out her name or a lack of eye contact made me notice that Essie did not act like other toddlers generally do. Her attention span was low and it wasn’t easy getting her to engage in everyday toddler activities. Being so young, I blamed myself. Like most minority cultures, Armenians are also not quick to accept that it may be something neurological or related to her mental health. I was sent to church, and I was asked to see priests and fortune tellers. One day, I finally had enough and decided to take my daughter for a professional evaluation. My motherly instincts were right, and she was diagnosed with autism on August 8th, 2015. That very moment, I felt immense sadness, but at the same time, I was relieved. I carried so many mixed emotions, but I had finally gotten an answer. I took that experience and transformed it into “Essie’s Journey” …

Has it been a smooth road?
It has been a tough road to say the least. However, things have gotten a lot better with time. I am more vocal and transparent, compared to before I was very sheltered, and I was very afraid of judgment. Years leading up to now, we struggled a lot. As a family, we had a difficult time wrapping our heads around her condition. There was so much learning to do, so much research. We wanted Essie to have a regular childhood, but we knew that that wasn’t going to be the case. I felt so guilty. I constantly found myself questioning what I did wrong that lead to Essie’s condition. I kept asking myself, did I do something wrong during my pregnancy? Did I give her the right formula? Did I read to her enough? Sing to her enough? What was I missing? I was already having a hard time accepting my daughter’s diagnoses and to have additional pressure of everyone constantly judging you and your capability as a mother, it is just too much for an individual. I had moments of darkness, but every time I would look at my beautiful Essie, I would see happiness, I would see an angel, a gift. I cannot begin to tell you how many events and gatherings we would decline just because we were tired of the stares and the constant judgment from extended family. We were always under a microscope is the way I’d describe it.

As Essie got older, we enrolled her into therapy and school. We had finally started to see progress and then, boom! We were hit with tragedy. My sister, Mariya was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and within three years of brutal chemotherapy, surgeries, and hospitalization she passed away in February of 2018. After losing her, I had forgotten about myself, my family, and my friends. My priority was my sister. During this time, I fell into a deep depression. I refused to get out of bed and I didn’t feel like doing anything at all! I didn’t even feel like taking the girls to school. If you have a child with Autism or if you can relate, you know that you cannot do that. Autism requires attention, care, and structure. I had to pick myself back up and realize that my sister would have never allowed this. She too was a mother to a child on the spectrum. She would not want it this way. After realizing what my sister would have wanted, I gained the strength to get to work and continue my sister’s legacy.

Essie’s Journey: Beyond the Spectrum – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Essie’s Journey: Beyond the Spectrum” is a website dedicated to Autism parents. We all know that autism does not come with a manual. We have created a chatroom and a forum primarily for peer support and so that you, as someone who is affected by autism spectrum disorder, knows that you are not remotely alone. We are here to offer support to all the phenomenal parents out there. This includes sharing tips, changes for improvement, learning to cope with the overwhelming feeling as a special needs parent, and more. We encourage everyone to enter and begin to meet, greet, share and support with others.

My motivation behind Essie’s Journey: Beyond the Spectrum comes with many reasons, but the most important one is bringing awareness in all communities and making sure that everyone understands that children with Autism are unique and special. There is a saying that’s often repeated because it’s true: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” That is because children on the spectrum are very different from one another. There is not one correct road map to follow when raising, teaching and loving them. My sister Mariya struggled with her daughter’s diagnosis, but because her daughter was high functioning, my sister didn’t really share her condition with everyone. My sister didn’t have a support system other than her immediate family. She wasn’t ashamed of her daughter, but we all have to understand there is a lot of stigma and shame surrounding autism and mental health in communities like ours. Ignorance doesn’t allow us to fully accept our children, so what happens when you have to hide yourself and your child? If you don’t get your child the help he or she needs in order to live a full functioning life, they will grow up and face many struggles. I was fed up and I didn’t want another young girl like myself to get the diagnosis and not be able obtain the support necessary from her peers. I did this for my two beautiful daughters and for my sister, Mariya.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The goal of Essie’s Journey is to grow and get better. I hope to learn from parents that are in the same boat as I am and I hope to teach them as well. I hope to create a positive and healthy environment where all individuals feel free to share their experiences with a child on the spectrum. I am putting together a podcast which I am hoping to launch soon. I have big plans for Essie’s Journey: Beyond the Spectrum, but I don’t want to give it all away! Check out our website and feel free to subscribe for upcoming news!

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