So stop wondering what you did wrong and how you can fix him. He’s not broken. He’s a gift from God. You just don’t see it yet. Open your eyes and see the good that you have passed on to him and focus on passing on to him the other good things that you have learned in life.
By Jen Dubois
Dear rattled Me,
I am writing to you with a lot more confidence, sensitivity and self-awareness than you can ever imagine you might have as you sit on the floor with your 4-year old son, struggling to engage him in imaginary play and feigning “affect” to get a reaction from him. “Affect” is something that you now realize is not really in your own true nature, neither is imaginary play as an adult. I am sorry that this makes you feel incompetent and gives you more reason to blame yourself for your son’s own lack of affect and progress. You know what, the way I see it now, in many ways you might be to blame for your son’s lack of affect or desire to engage in imaginary play; but only in the same way that any parent is to blame for their child’s genetic traits, good or bad – musical talent or lack thereof, blue or brown eyes, a lisp, a preference for berries or a crooked smile. Right now as you struggle to come to grips with the reality of raising a child with autism, you only see the “bad” things that you may have inadvertently passed on to your child, namely all the signs of his autism. His tantrums remind you of your own increasingly growing impatience and anger with the hand you have been dealt. His aversion to chewing meat brings back memories of you as a child gagging at the sight of a hot dog (they were dyed bright pink King Cotton hot dogs and often times had little hard bits in them, give yourself a break!). His lack of playmates recalls your own painful shyness at his age. His spaciness reminds you of your own.
I know that right now you are carrying so much guilt and so much pain and confusion because of that guilt. It seems the only way that you can get rid of your guilt is to fix the child that you think you somehow broke. Was it the formula you gave him? Was it the microwaved macaroni and cheese? Was it too many hours spent watching DVDs? Was it the vaccines that you never questioned? Was it your genetic make-up? Let me tell you now to stop wondering what you did or what caused his autism. You might as well be asking when the universe began. There will be many theories that you and others research and put forth, but the truth is that you will never know. So stop wondering what you did wrong and how you can fix him. He’s not broken. He’s a gift from God. You just don’t see it yet. Open your eyes and see the good that you have passed on to him and focus on passing on to him the other good things that you have learned in life. He may not have a sense of humor now, but he will develop a sense of humor, an offbeat one of course, if you find your sense of humor again and start showing it to him. He will one day laugh and make jokes because you consistently showed him how to do that.
I know that you feel like a failure as a mother, and that you are still grieving the loss of a dream of the perfect little boy. Let me tell you, 6 years later, you will marvel, as will others, at what a perfect little boy he seems to be, if not a bit quirky. You will be proven correct time and time again, that, as you said when he was born when you looked into his newborn eyes that you could tell that he was an old soul. He will be so wise at times – wiser than you and other adults and the “experts”, certainly more wise than other kids his own age. Oh, and speaking of kids his own age, while right now he may seem grossly out of sync with his soccer ball sporting peers, you will be glad one day that he is out of sync with his peers, most of whom will pale in comparison to the interesting, clever and charming personality that your son is to become.
This wise 4 year old will eventually give you good advice sometimes when you are not looking for advice. He will hold a mirror up to your face A LOT so get comfortable in your own skin. And heed what he says. A lot of times his advice will be one way or another a way of asking you to just accept him the way he is or to just be his mom, not his therapist, as you are training to be right now. Start spending more time parenting your son rather than trying to fix him. You will find more joy in parenting him the way he is, in embracing your son, not your autistic son. For the more time you spend with him as his Mom, the more of your son you will see and the less of his autism you will see. And you will teach him more about how to get along in life if you just be his Mom, his biggest fan and his advocate. Your instinct to expose him to new things is important. Keep doing that. Travel, music lessons, books, fishing, skiing. One day he will play a Coldplay song in a band competition at a local bar to much applause, and you will look on relishing the fruits of your very hard parenting work over a glass of wine.
But you cannot imagine that could happen right now. You can barely get through the day with hours of behavioral therapy and his 2 year old brother in addition to tend to. Don’t ignore the 2 year old. He needs you just as much as his special needs brother, maybe more so as you will find out later. Pay attention to him or he will find unwanted ways to make you pay attention to him. It will be hard to find a balance as mother of these two, but keep trying. Listen to the cliché that you must take care of yourself. Go to the gym, write and read, take a girlfriend vacation, read People Magazine, stay at home instead of working if you like, without guilt. Most especially start making mommy friends that matter and understand and don’t judge. These are the ones who are probably not in the “in” crowd, so stop looking and hoping there. Forget the Moms that behave like they are in high school. They will only make you feel insecure and inadequate. You aren’t. You won’t be. You’re not. You never will be.
Oh, and that affect? He will develop it in spades.
Jen DuBois is mom to Finbar, age 11 and his brother Declan, age 9. In the early days of her son’s autism diagnosis Jen was active in her local autism community. She wrote about her early experiences raising Finbar in her blog Life on the Fringe and has started writing a book about her experiences. She currently resides in Geneva, Switzerland where she is once again learning the ropes of a new system for kids with special needs, and where her son Finbar is thriving.
You can read Jen’s blogs affordablerelocationgeneva.wordpress.com/category/blog/ and fringekids.blogspot.ch