When I Fall, My Son With Autism Always Picks Me Up

Editor's Note

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

Last week I “slipped” a little. Just a small “stumble” over something I didn’t see coming. I guess it was more like someone I didn’t see coming. It was the keynote speaker at an autism conference I attended. Sorry, that sounded like finger pointing. It wasn’t the keynote speaker who “tripped” me, I “tripped” over myself. I got in my own way. Again.

Sure, what the keynote spoke about, what he said, may have been what tripped me up, but I’ve gotten fairly used to “falling,” hoping no one sees it, brushing myself off and jumping up again. This time was different. This time, I didn’t have the hands there that always pick me up, so I stayed down a little longer than usual.

The keynote speaker was a respected autism researcher and he was fabulous and brilliant. When I saw all the science and research info in his bio, being the kind of person who took geology with all the college jocks so I could avoid chemistry, biology and any number of other “real” sciences (just kidding geologists), I expected to be bored and check my Facebook newsfeed. Boy, was I wrong. I was mesmerized and didn’t once check Facebook.

The science of autism and the research that goes into it is fascinating. We are just beginning to understand the incredible facets of the human brain, and therefore, we are also just beginning to understand autism. So, I sat in my chair listening, taking it all in and not really caring where my friends checked in for lunch that day.

As I sat taking notes and making a list of questions I planned to ask this incredibly brilliant researcher, he began talking about the causes of autism, and that’s when I started to “slip.” I felt that same ache in my heart I felt 13 years ago, that same doubt that slowly crept up my spine, that same guilt of not knowing how or why and what, if anything, I had to do with it. And just like that, I stumbled and was on my ass. Again.

I’ve been here before. Lots and lots and lots of time. What did I eat when pregnant? What was I exposed to when pregnant? What did I feed my son? What did I expose him to? Was it my genes or my husband’s genes? How did it impact him and not my other kids? What caused my son’s autism? It’s been a long time since I “stumbled” back here and it took me a little longer to get up. Did I mention I was at a conference? Overnight with no kids? Plenty of time to stay down and not get up, and with the one set of hands who always helps me up playing Fortnite in his bedroom 45 miles away, I allowed myself to stay down for a few hours. I hadn’t been down that long for quite some time.

So, yeah, I “stumbled.” I wondered. I questioned. I blamed. I Googled. I fell. Hard. Again.

And as I lay there, surrounded in doubt, guilt, wonder and worry, my phone tinged. A text alert. I almost didn’t get up. I almost didn’t get it. After all, I was down, wallowing alone in a hotel room was just what I needed. But, then I remembered, I’m not on this journey alone. People need me. My son needs me. I picked up the phone and for the first time since I had “stumbled,” the tears fell.


Two simple letters, one simple word that pushed me back up on my feet and reminded me that “how,” “why” or “what” wasn’t nearly as important as “who.” And “who” may have not been physically there to pull me to my feet, but, his simple “hi” was enough to get me off my ass and move forward. There is no time to go back, and going back does not do him, or me, any good.

“Hi baby. I miss you.” No response back. None was needed. He knows. My son knows that even when I stumble, even when I go back, even when I fall really, really hard, I will pick myself up and be there for him. Always. Sure, I may lick my wounds for a few days, but, I get back up and feel stronger from the fall.

This wound licking is not because I wish my son were someone else, it is not because I think he needs “fixed” or “cured.” It’s because like any parent, I want the world to see him as I do: brilliant, gifted, funny and determined. Unfortunately, that does not always happen.

Yes, I know, the science of autism is incredibly important as it leads us all to understand the what, the why and the how, but for me, a mother loving a child with autism, the who is what matters most. The who is here, present and indescribably amazing. The who needs supports and resources to help others see how amazing he is and what he can offer this world. The who needs to be understood and accepted just as he is. The who needs me. And the who, my son, keeps me going forward and picks me up when I trip over myself and fall. Hard. Again.

Thank God, because I’d never get up without him.

Image Credits: Kathy Hooven

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