Dear Newly-Diagnosed Autistic Son,
I don’t know where to go from here.
I know, I know. I’m the mom. I’m supposed to have it all planned out. I’m supposed to have already started your college application to a top-tier school… maybe not Ivy-League, because I’m not one of THOSE parents, but top-tier, definitely… and informed you what the subject of your admission essay should be. I’m supposed to have laid out your high school senior year honors project and your middle school talent show act and your elementary school science fair projects, all six years of them, because that’s what a loving mom does.
What’s that? Yes, I know you’re only two, but you seem to be missing the point. I want to do my job. I want to provide you with every possible opportunity. I want you to be prepared to fight the offspring of the tiger moms for entrance into the AP classes, because even though I’m not one of THOSE moms who expects Ivy-League college admission, I’m one who wants her firstborn to follow in her own footsteps of academic success.
Like I said, I’m supposed to know what to do, every step of the way. Four Keystone-Star preschool, dance school, the most expensive after-school programs (because expensive has to equal good parenting), soccer team, piano lessons, private SAT tutoring, volunteer opportunities… I literally had the specifics of raising and educating you written down even as I was on the way to the operating table for my C-section. So you see, I did know what to do every step of the way.
Then you were diagnosed with autism yesterday, and now I feel like we’re both stranded in the ocean together.
And we’re not just alone in the ocean. Think of those stories you see on I Shouldn’t Have Survived, about army pilots’ electrical systems failing during gigantic storms over the open sea. The pilots who are forced to eject from their planes into the black of night, plummeting into the water in the heart of winter during a typhoon, only to realize they’ve ejected into a mass of Box Jellyfish, only to realize upon escape that there is a ring of hungry great white dorsal fins, only to realize upon further escape that they’re drifting further and further from help due to the current…that’s our present state of affairs.
I’m not trying to scare you. But I haven’t a clue what to do next.
Last night, I found myself trying to grieve. I was grieving the doctor I never thought you’d get to be, the Ph.D. candidate, the star of the basketball team, the mathlete. I was grieving the girlfriends and jobs and extracurricular accomplishments you’d miss out on. I was grieving the future I had imagined for you.
But you know what? This morning, as I’m writing this? You know what I’m starting to think now?
Fuck all that noise.
I mean, have you seen some of the people who grow up to be doctors? Doesn’t it just make you want to run screaming for the hills, vowing to battle the cancer yourself before you let someone who can’t even pump their own gas correctly puncture your veins? And are you familiar with the material some people choose for their doctorates? Like, does the planet really need an expert in the mating habits of pillbugs with certain antibiotic-resistances? And, I’m sorry, no offense to THOSE parents, but do you really think any of the mathletes are getting dates at any point to the 8th-grade dance?
I’m guessing no to all of the above. After all, you’re only two.
But my point is that what I was picturing last night are typical goals for typical people. And you, my son, my firstborn, are anything but typical. You are sweet, and kind, and bright. You will sprint across the room just to give me a kiss when I ask. You figure out every problem-solving toy you’re given. You can even catch the cat to give her violent love when she’s running from you, which, as an aside, is something we still need to work on, but it makes Mommy proud nonetheless. And, yes, you are autistic. You are one-of-a-kind, so why am I grieving potential futures for you that don’t even recognize that fact?
At the end of the day, of course, your future is as-of-yet unknown. But based on the little boy who I know is really in there, I’m starting to think it’s still going to be recognizable as the life of a happy, independent, fulfilled adult. Because, despite this diagnosis, I will argue to my dying day that you are intelligent; that you are normal; that you are no different from any other child with whom I could have been gifted, a few personality quirks aside.
So beginning now, this morning, my hope is that you’ll be treated as a fully-functioning equal to every other crumb-strewn, volatile, unreasonable, emotional, reactive, explosive, awkward, bad-tempered toddler out there. Years from now, I will cross my fingers that I get to complain, right alongside the mothers of neurotypical children, that you melted down over your choice of snack in preschool. I will look forward to watching you discover slugs and buried treasure and half-flattened roadkill, inexplicably still alive, just as your non-autistic peers are doing. I can’t wait for meetings with the high school guidance counselor after you’re discovered smoking marijuana with your social circle, simply delighted to hear that you have a social circle.
That is to say, my love, your autism is not preventing you from greatness, or success, or normalcy. And I anticipate, as you come to consciousness and conscienceness, that this fact will remain. You are silly, and loving, and clever; you are stubborn, and resilient, and determined. You are capable. You have bright things in your future. And, despite what we learned yesterday, I consider myself lucky that, out of all the potential newborns to be ripped squalling from my stomach, covered in goo, it was you that we got.
We got this, my love. And we’ll figure out how to move forward together.