Autism Didn't Change My Son. It Changed Us.


20130916-DSC_8518 If I could go back to December 17, 2011, I would want to make myself sit down with someone — a professional or trusted figure — and just let out the complex feelings I tried to put a resolute demeanor over. We weren’t surprised to receive an autism diagnosis for our 3-year-old son; we were relieved to have an answer.

It was a new starting point. What I dreaded most was to see my son diminished in the eyes of others. I would not stand for that. A day later we went to a family Christmas gathering where I tearfully declared, “Our dreams and wishes for our son are unchanged.” In the essentials of life — love and faith and family — nothing had changed. Jeremiah had not changed.

We were the ones who would, by almost imperceptible degrees, change.

We would change our stance. When you typically begin to walk down an unfamiliar diagnosis road, you join a new subculture. To broadly define the two options of the autism spectrum disorder spectrum, you have 1) Change and Cure and 2) Accept and Support. Of course, these are simplistic categories, but we started unabashedly in the first category. We began therapies (a good thing) and schooling and paperwork and lastly, an approach to autism intervention. I regret none of these. We learned more about our son’s unique style of learning and worked through our own prejudices and barriers to parenting a child who approached the world in a way unfamiliar to us. Then, after a few years, we stopped and re-evaluated. This is the most important step, I believe, to helping your child. We gave ourselves permission to keep the good and abandon what was not working for our family. No philosophy or therapeutic approach is more important than the health of the entire family. We were tired. We had reached an end of one approach and it was OK.

It’s good to go your own way. This is truly one of the best lessons I’ve learned from being a parent of a child with a disability. Doctors and professionals are valuable resources, and it’s wise to examine the course of options they present. But you know your child and yourself best. Trust your instincts and judgment. You are the parent. You do know best. You are the most vested. Examine everything, make a choice and walk boldly in it. Fear is a terrible motivator.

We would laugh with our son. With his sly methods of getting his way and his way of showing excitement — to rehearse over and over the next time he would see someone or someplace he loved. We would hoot and holler as he took ownership of the toilet, a big deal for any child. I would hear my first “I love you” from my son, as he approached my door after bedtime, knowing this would most definitely get him time in my room. We would enjoy his newfound interest in drawing, not to mention riding his first big bike and loving it, undaunted by the falls. Slow and steady wins the race.

We continue to learn that the best place for our son to be is the place where he will thrive. Right now, that is in a special education classroom. He has excellent teachers who understand his needs. He is not lost. He would be lost in a regular classroom, though I dream one day this will be possible. My son has teachers that see him and value him. That’s more than enough.

We have a son that makes us laugh, cry, roll our eyes and cheer. Sometimes I lose my patience and remind him to “cool it, buddy” when he’s asked to see Papa for the tenth time that minute. I can discipline in haste.

But I love and appreciate my world and the wonder of life more that I ever would have before.

So, I would say this to myself on the day we got the diagnosis: Sweetheart, it’s gonna be more than all right.

This post originally appeared on The Jaybird Blog.

For all of January, The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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