Avoiding the 'Blame Game' When Your Child Is Diagnosed With Autism
It took two years before we were able to conceive. We went through fertility therapies but all that did was run us down. Once we stopped trying so hard, our son was conceived, much to the surprise of all of us since my ability to conceive without medical help was considered “unlikely.”
As you can imagine, the joy was overwhelming, but I immediately started wondering if I had done something wrong already. Because of my particular circumstances, I was 3 months along when I learned I was pregnant. So along with excitement came self-doubt and fear. Did I eat something I shouldn’t have? Did I take too many Tylenol? did I get exposed to toxic chemicals? It was a long list of events I tried to remember to be sure I did not mess up the first trimester.
Shortly thereafter, I had a test done that alerted my doctor to the potential for birth defects. Talk about scary! And so the blame game began. I blamed my doctor, I blamed myself, I blamed my job, my body. I was convinced I had already failed. Fortunately, a second test revealed that the first test was wrong and we had misjudged the age of the baby, What a relief. With that behind us, I spent the rest of my pregnancy in maternal bliss and anticipation. All was unfolding as it should.
We welcomed our beautiful boy and raised him the best we could as new parents. We worried a lot and tried too hard but it was all working despite our flaws. My sense of self-blame was long gone until he entered first grade. He was showing obvious behavior problems and his teacher declared that he had autism. I did not give this any credit because 1. It’s not her place to declare this and 2. None of his doctors had alerted us to this. But here’s the kicker, as I was leaving, visibly upset, she had the nerve to say, “Don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault.”
I wanted to give her a few choice words for even suggesting that. By this time, I was a proud parent and full of confidence in my ability to raise this beautiful boy. Her comment felt undermining. I have since learned that there is a history of blaming moms for children’s autism. It was all started by a doctor in the 1940s. Unfortunately, this blame persisted well into the 80s, labeling parents as “refrigerator moms” meaning they were cold, neglectful and distant. I find this term repulsive as most moms I know are exactly the opposite and shower their kids with love and attention.
Until the teacher’s comment reached me, it never occurred to me to blame myself for his symptoms. And I’m glad I did not buy into it. Sadly, I still see people perpetuating this ignorance. In one Facebook group for moms of autistic kids, one member posted that her friend would not let her child play with an autistic boy for fear of him catching it. She also believed girls could not be autistic. That moment would have been a great time to educate others but unfortunately, the mom’s emotions got the best of her and she closed-down and self-protected. I don’t think she’s alone in that response, but I wish it could have played out differently. I urge you to find the strength to teach others about autism and stop the myths. Not only for you but for all moms and dads with kids with disabilities.
Now that I am 21 years into parenting this young man and our diagnosis did eventually prove to be autism, I have never felt the need to blame myself. My hope for all moms and the moms of the future is that they too value their love for their child and themselves and never blame themselves. You have made a beautiful human and you are a beautiful human. Keep up the good work and keep up the belief in yourself! It’s to everyone’s benefit.
This story originally appeared on Sprouting Healthy Families.
Getty photo by Trendsetter Images.