Telling My Son He Has Autism
It was a conversation I had put off for years, but being that April is Autism Awareness Month I wanted to share my story with Autism Spectrum Disorder and how I told my son he has Autism. (Please respect that he is eleven years old and if you happen to know him personally, he doesn't want to talk about it, o.k.?)
When my son Boston was born on the 4th of July 2006 it was the most glorious moment of my life. I thought he was the most handsome, precious child I had ever laid eyes on. He needed me, I needed him, and my life has never ever been the same.
He had ten fingers, ten toes, a strong cry, and leaving that hospital as a naive first time Mom I thought "He's healthy. Now it's up to me to raise him right, and this parenthood thing will be smooth sailing." I had no idea what was in store.
Our story is a common one among Mom's who have children with Autism. For the first 18 months, he developed normally. He had the most glorious laugh at three months old, and although he was a little slow to crawl at 9 months and walk at 15 months, our pediatrician always assured me he was doing just fine.
Approaching 18 months he could say a handful of words, point out his body parts, loved trucks and airplanes. Then it all stopped. Not suddenly, but little by little he wouldn't use his words anymore, wouldn't point to his belly button, took no interest in the planes flying overhead.
I expressed my concern to family and friends and they always blew it off as "he's just being a boy." "You're a paranoid first time Mom," or "he's just being stubborn." In my gut, I knew they were wrong.
Every time I Googled his symptoms, one word came up. Autism. I didn't want to believe it, but I knew Google was right. On July 22, 2008, our world came crashing down. I sat in a psychologist's office and was told my son has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. (The diagnosis was later changed to Asperger's or High Functioning Autism.) I was handed a stack of papers and I went home and cried on my kitchen floor.
Over the next five years, my son Boston was in intensive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. At the peak we were working with him 40 hours a week. Add all my worry to everything and it was more than a full-time job, but all that hard work paid off.
Today at eleven he is in a regular classroom unassisted, he plays baseball, basketball, flag football, golf, and he just won his school spelling bee. He's been doing these things for years and I couldn't be more proud of him. On the flip side, he struggles. He struggles to make and maintain friends. He gets overly emotional over little things, he becomes obsessed with strange subjects like movie ratings.
I knew the conversation had to happen but I was always putting it off. I didn't want him to feel different or to have a label. Then one night a few weeks ago he asked me. "Mom, why do you have all these books about Autism?" I told him it was a subject that interested me and tried to leave it at that. Then the dreaded question came. "Mom, do I have Autism?" I tried to dodge the answer, but he persisted. "Mom, do I have Autism?"
That's when I pulled him into my bedroom, sat him down, and told him our story. The story of words lost, lots of worry, lots of hard work, and lots of success. I then settled his panic by telling him how lots of people who are hugely successful would be labeled as on the Autism Spectrum today. Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, and Steve Jobs to name a few.
I don't know if the depth of our conversation has really sunk in. He told me he doesn't feel different and he's gone on about life as though we never had the conversation. I take peace in the fact that the window has been opened and it may lead to other conversations as he has his own unique struggles in life.
My one hope is that people will start seeing people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, people like my son, as just people. Just like you and me and that label will fade. This is how I view Autism.
I truly believe that my son has a bright future ahead of him and I wish I could have seen what he would be like at eleven when he was only two and our lives were filled with so much worry and heartache.
If you have a child that has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder be proactive but know that no matter what it's going to be o.k. There is hope.
I am always more than happy to talk to other "Autism Mom's" and to share our decisions and our path. Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com