How My Son With Autism Pulls Me Out of the 'Rabbit Hole'


I ignored the house phone when it rang. No one who really needs us calls that phone anymore. Then my cell phone rang, and since it was a local number I didn’t recognize, I ignored it, too. After all, it was Christmas break and my only goal was to hang with the family, eat cookies, drink wine and finish Season 2 of “The Crown.”

However, when the voicemail message alert popped up on my cell phone, I decided that even if I did want to see how Queen Elizabeth handled a remorseful Jackie Kennedy (even classy, grown up girls can be mean), I needed to check my message.

As soon as I heard the voice, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. When a school official is calling over Christmas break, you know they aren’t calling to see if you got an Instant Pot for Christmas. Then I heard words like, “red flags,” “teacher concerns,” “out of the ordinary” and “worried” and that’s when the cold sweats began.

In a writing assignment, Ryan’s words led his teacher be concerned. I was literally trembling as I called the school administrator back. And as quickly as this nice man answered his phone, he was cut off and gone. I prayed after I yelled the word that rhymes with “duck” really, really, really loud, that we truly were disconnected and that he didn’t hear that expletive come so easily and freely from my mouth.

As I waited, hoping this nice man who was working over his break would call back this really sweary mom back, the worst case scenarios went through my head. One fear lead to another as I sat on the couch willing my phone to ring and tried to calm myself down. But the glow of the Christmas trees lights reminded me that any type of teacher or administrator calling over their sacred holiday break equals some type of big deal. Bigger than the deal Queen Elizabeth just made with the Prime Minister from Ghana on The Crown.

It only took 60 seconds for this school administrator to call me back, but, in those 60 seconds my brain went down the rabbit hole. What did he write? Did someone hear him script, “I have crippling depression” from his most favorite meme and think a call to Crisis Intervention was needed? My son has never been violent or the least bit aggressive, but the rabbit hole is a place where only ugly thoughts creep in your head.

When the phone finally rang and I got the story, none of my catastrophizing scenarios came true. What this school administrator shared was sad, but, nothing like the scenarios I had created in my head. And after Ryan and I discussed it, Ryan’s words that were concerning to some, made sense to me.

As much as Ryan’s words and his worries hurt my heart, I was so proud of Ryan’s ability to communicate his feelings and his concerns. What I wasn’t proud of was my reaction. Damn it, I hate that rabbit hole.

Yes, the sense of panic with a call over Christmas break was somewhat worthy of alarm, but, to immediately go to such awful scenarios had me feeling shameful. I know my son better than anyone and there isn’t an aggressive bone in his body, yet, I know when he scripts, he might not know the impact his words could have on people who don’t know him.

Whether it’s on AWEnesty, my Facebook page, or at an IEP Meeting, I beg and plead for everyone to not see the label, but to see my son. Yet, with one phone message and without so much as a backward glance at my son whom I know so well, I jumped both feet first down the rabbit hole and did exactly what I ask no one else to do: I saw autism first and Ryan second. And the guilt of it made me feel so ashamed.

Rather than wallow in my own shame and guilt, I decided to do something about it. I decided I needed to apologize to my son. After we discussed what had caused his teacher to be somewhat concerned and precipitated the phone call, I told him, “I was worried it was something else.” Then when I told him about my trip down the rabbit hole he said, “Well, that’s not a surprise since you over worry about everything.”

Ryan’s right. I do “over worry” about everything, like seriously, everything. So maybe my “over worry” to a holiday break phone call from school personnel and jumping down the rabbit hole wasn’t quite so out of character for me. As for my son, who never disappoints me, he stayed true to his character by pulling me out of the rabbit hole, as he has so many times before by being exactly who he is meant to be.

He teaches me so much.

​Every. Single. Day.

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Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.


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