A small boy in a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers holds a snocone as he stands on the grass

When My Son Asked Me Why He Has Brain Damage


If you watched my son on the playground, you’d see an average-sized 9-year-old with beautiful brown skin and a big smile. His mannerisms are a little off and his language a little strange, but for the most part, his disability is invisible.

Mateo has Fetal Alcohol syndrome. My husband and I were young and clueless when we adopted him — out to save the world with love and a Disney-themed toddler bedroom. Now, we know love doesn’t fix everything.

This has never been as clear as the day he stood, sobbing, in my kitchen seven years later, asking if he has brain damage. It’s a yucky term, but we use it so professionals understand his difficulties with following rules aren’t because he’s a “bad kid.” But it’s not a term I want my son, who’s functioning like a 4-year-old, to associate himself with.

It always happens that kids throw these parenting bombs at us when we least expect it. So there I was, mouth hanging open, food burning on the stove top, fumbling for the right words. How do you tell an 8-year-old his brain will never work like his younger sister’s? How do you tell him he’ll always be slower, less coordinated than his peers, and he’ll probably need therapy and medication his whole life?

“Why did my brain get damaged, Mom?” he asked through tears. “Why am I the only one in my class who’s stupid?”

He looked at me, pleading for answers that made sense, desperate for his mommy to fix things, to tell him it’ll be OK, to heal his boo-boos with a kiss. But there are some boo-boos I can’t fix.

I’d like to think I said all the right words that night, and that any number of professionals would give me a round of applause for it, but I don’t know if that’s true. I’m not a believer in sugarcoating things for my kids.

“Can we fix it?” he asked. “Can I get a new brain?”

Trying to hold back my own tears, I hugged him and said, “All we can do is try our best and keep going.”

That’s as close to a motto as we get as parents on this wild, uncharted journey. We don’t know what the future holds or how much he can learn and grow and develop. But we’ll always try our best, and we’ll keep going, one day at a time.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? 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. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Why I'm Almost Proud to Tell the Story of My Child Kicking Her Classmate

My daughter, Sydney, got in the van as she does every day after school, but this day was different. She didn’t start talking a mile a minute, asking me where I’d been and what I’d done. She didn’t loudly share with me who she played with at recess or how awful the boys in her classroom behave. [...]

Why I Believe Only Special People Parent Special Needs Children

Recently, a longtime friend reached out to me to let me know she was expecting a Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis for her kiddo. She was feeling all of the things you feel when you are told your child is different, and she was wondering if I had any suggestions or helpful tips about how to begin [...]

When a Cashier Reminded Me My Son Has Down Syndrome

Sometimes I forget that our son has Down syndrome. It’s easy to be distracted by his 2-year-old tantrums, his mischievous smile and go-getter attitude. Gabe is kindhearted but stubborn. He immediately runs to check on his sister when she’s having a dramatic, I’m-4-and-the-world-is-over meltdown. He will climb onto your lap randomly and stretch his little [...]

Dear Younger Me, Here’s What Happened to Your Son Who Didn’t Speak Until He Was Nearly 4

Every year I like to post something for my family and friends, to share what I’m feeling inside as we raise our son with autism and our daughter, who was diagnosed with ADHD and severe OCD. The one thing that resonates each year is that I’m lucky to be on this road. It’s paved with [...]