Little caring gestures can be a really big help. Just ask this busy mom of 3.

It takes a neighborhood.

Olivia’s son Otto was barely 2 years old when she realized he was different. His eventual diagnosis — severe autism — was a surprising relief.

Olivia Cytrynowicz. Image via Hallmark/YouTube.

Growing up with an autistic brother, Olivia was already familiar with the spectrum, as well as how it affects the lives of people on it and those who care about them.


Her young son would have challenges expressing himself verbally; he'd have learning difficulties and complicated emotions. She knew that in the same way her son saw the world a little bit differently, she and her family would need to do the same. On top of her job at Hallmark and her already busy life, she and her family had to create space for understanding Otto's special needs while ensuring that those of their other two children — and their own — would be met.

If that sounds like a pretty tough balancing act, it is. It's also not out of the ordinary for parents of kids with special needs.

Fortunately, Olivia and her family have a caring community to help them along. Three years after Otto’s diagnosis, they're all thriving.

Olivia and her family on vacation in Colorado. Image via Olivia Cytrynowicz, used with permission.

“You’ve probably heard the expression, 'It takes a village.' ... We live that every day with our family," says Olivia.

"Our neighbors know that if they see Otto running down the street, he shouldn’t be and where to return him," she adds. "They will come over with a meal when it’s been a really rough week. They’ll take my other kids out for pizza or for a sleepover, just to give them kind of a sense of normalcy or just to give us a break. It’s those really specific acts of kindness that resonate with us every time, really.”

When large gatherings happen, their friends make sure Otto's special needs are accommodated. For example, they’ll make sure the barbecue doesn’t have open flames, or they’ll create a special quiet place where Otto can find peace if he’s overstimulated. For parents like Olivia, who base their decisions on which events to attend on how their children could potentially react to them, these small kindnesses make a huge difference.

Having a community to lean on is a huge asset. But when support from others isn’t enough, Olivia has learned to take time for herself, too.

“Especially as women, we’re warrior moms or constantly advocating ... and that’s where we spend a lot of time getting our affirmation,” she says. “But that really can get exhaustive. I mean, I’ve been on this path for five years now, and it’s taken me close to that amount of time to realize that that’s not where I’m going to recharge. I’m going to be a better mom, I’m going to be a better wife, I’m going to be a better employee if I get out of the house for a little bit.”

Olivia and Otto share a special moment at home. Image via Olivia Cytrynowicz, used with permission.

At the moment, Olivia recharges with the help of exercise classes that she takes five times a week. She credits the experience with changing her life and helping her find control, especially when the rest of her day is chaotic and unpredictable.

“I make it count because I know that as soon as I leave that gym that I’m going home to a bunch of stuff that I can’t control. How many pushups I can do in an hour?  That’s something I can control.”

In her nine years as a parent, Olivia has learned a lot about care. She's seen how even tiny amounts of it can change lives, even her own.

"There are so many ways to show someone that you care," she says. "It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it doesn’t have to be something that you purchase or just the right words at the right time. It’s just being there and being genuine and letting that person know that they matter to you."

Listen to Olivia speak about how caring gestures have changed her life in this short video:

More
True
Hallmark

Mom and blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom regularly shares snippets of life with her two children on her Facebook page. One particularly touching interaction with her daughter is melting hearts and blowing minds due to the three-year-old's wise words about forgiveness.

Even adults struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Entire books have been written about how and why to forgive those who have wronged us, but many still have a hard time getting it. Who would guess that a preschooler could encapsulate what forgiveness means in a handful of innocent words?

Keep Reading Show less
Family

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

The U.S. women's soccer team won the Women's World Cup, but the victory is marred by the fact that the team is currently fighting for equal pay. In soccer, the game is won by scoring points, but the fight for equal pay isn't as clearly winnable and the playing field isn't as even.

We live in a world where winning the World Cup is easier than winning equal pay, but co-captain Megan Rapinoe says there's one easy way fans can support the team: Go see games.

Some people argue the men's team deserves to get paid more because they are more successful and earn more money for the United States Soccer Federation. Pay depends on merchandise and ticket sales, and in general, men's sporting events tend to draw a bigger crowd than women's sporting events. It's not about sex, many argue; it's about the fact that people just prefer to see men play.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

You think you know someone pretty well when you spend years with them, but, as we've seen time and again, that's not always the case. And though many relationships don't get to a point where the producers of "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" start calling every day just to chat, the reality is that sometimes partners will reveal shocking things even after you thought you'd been all shocked out.

That's the case for one woman whose Reddit thread has recently gone viral. The 25-year-old, who's been with her boyfriend for five years, took to a forum for relationship advice to ask if it was normal that her seemingly cool and loving boyfriend recently revealed women shouldn't have a fundamental right. (And no, it's not abortion — although there are a lot of "otherwise best ever boyfriends" out there who want to deny women the rights to bodily autonomy, too.)

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended