The Mighty Logo

The Jack Nicholson Line That Made Me View Autism Differently

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Autism. In the days following my son Mike’s diagnosis, I remember a cashier innocently asking, “How are you?” as she pushed my groceries over the scanner. “How are you?” – the question felt like a knife. I just looked at her, pondering her words, pondering my emotions. It was too painful to provide her a canned response. Too painful to form a positive thought or consider ever having a positive emotion. “How am I?” – “How am I?” My son, my 23-month-old baby, my child has autism – how could I ever be simply fine?

Mike’s 2nd birthday party was scheduled to take place a couple of weeks after his diagnosis. I was paralyzed, simply going through the motions to meet my family’s basic needs. I belonged to my local Moms Club, and the other mothers came to my aid. They took over Mike’s party – hired the bounce house, cooked the food, helped with setup. I pulled it together enough to robotically attend, fighting back my tears and burying my emotions. To this day, I’m incapable of looking at the pictures from that party.

In the months following, I quickly formulated and implemented a plan. It was a recovery plan. I intended on pulling my son away from the diagnosis defining his life. I wouldn’t allow the dark thoughts to creep into my mind. I wouldn’t allow this diagnosis to define his future, not at 2 years old. I focused on the small progress he was making and threw myself into research. Autism became my life – therapy appointments, diets, vitamins, whatever was popular.

A year later, I found myself sitting and watching a movie that would change my life. No, it wasn’t the subject or message of the film that struck me – it was one line.

One simple question…

That question jolted my core and forced me to look at how I was living my life. I was living for the future – waiting for the therapy to work and my perfect child to arrive. I’d put everything on hold; I was going through the motions. I was wasting the childhood I did have with my children.

From that day forward, I’ve repeated that line countless times both in my head and to other autism parents. It’s given me the ability to shift my focus from what could be or could have been, to what is. It helped me decide what kind of life I wanted for myself and what kind of childhood I wanted for my children. It forced me to host great birthday parties and sometimes drag Mike into the world. I was able with modifications to fulfill the dreams I had for my kids before they were born. In essence, I chose to enjoy life. I chose to focus on each day without obsessing about an unknown future.

For, if this is truly as good as it gets, I choose to make the best out of what I have been given.

After all…

This post originally appeared on Autism Hippie.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

Originally published: April 7, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home