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My Autistic Son Has Always Been My Teacher

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My now 20-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at age 4, but I didn’t share that diagnosis with the school district until he was 8 years old. Why? Fear. Ignorance. Fear. Unawareness. Fear.

My fear, my ignorance, my unawareness.

Eventually, I understood that by keeping my son’s diagnosis a “secret,” not only was I depriving him of services and supports that could help him be successful, but I was also teaching him that being different, that being autistic was something to hide. Yes, I know at 8 he may not have fully understood that, but I did… eventually. It took me longer than I would like to admit, but eventually, in time I understood, because he taught me.

Which is why watching him sing surrounded by many of his neurotypical college peers, and proudly wearing his “Autism: different, not less” bracelet (that he has been wearing nonstop for four years except to shower and sleep) was a good reminder that acceptance starts and ends with me. How I see my autistic son is a bit like a mirror that reflects how he sees himself and I want him to always see how extraordinary I think he is, how extraordinary I always thought he was, regardless of how my fears initially clouded my sight.

Looking back knowing what I know now, I would have immediately shared my son’s autism diagnosis with the school, but I was still learning. There is an old Buddhist saying that goes something like “The teacher appears when the student is ready.” Well, this student wasn’t ready back then, but thank goodness my teacher was still willing to appear when I was ready. My son has always been teaching me, even before I was ready to learn.

Originally published: April 4, 2023
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