The older I get the more I realize how many definitive moments we have along the way. Before and afters that changed the path you were on and take you on a completely unexpected detour of your life. My son’s ASD diagnosis is one of those before and after moments for me.
Before autism I was carefree about childhood development. I shrugged off every sign I should have picked up on.
“So what he’s a late bloomer.” I don’t need my kids to be the fastest or the best.
“He doesn’t like to talk much.” Nothing unusual for someone in my family.
“He’s not a fan of big crowds.” Who is? I thought.
I eye rolled my friend’s homemade sensory bins as a messy annoyance.
After autism all of those thoughts became crippling. How could I have been so naive? Why didn’t I speak up instead of pushing my fears aside and shrugging them off as an overreaction? Now the thoughts I carry are heavy.
“Will he ever learn to communicate his thoughts and ideas?”
“Will he ever learn to take care of himself?”
“Will he be capable of making friends?”
“Will people treat him with kindness and respect?”
“Should I have made that sensory bin?”
A part of me was in denial because I wanted everyone to think I can handle it. To remind them that what I’m going through is nothing compared to what some people face. But somedays, I just feel exhausted and broken. Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.
There are other before feelings too. Feelings that are hard to admit I had. Before my own child’s ASD diagnosis, other children’s awkward behaviour made me uncomfortable. If my kids would point out something unusual about how another person was acting, I would feel flustered and wouldn’t know how to answer their questions. Before, I was naive and lived in a bubble. I hadn’t personally experienced any kind of inclusion in my life. I was so unfamiliar with differences, or spending time with people who weren’t like me.
After autism, and after some time following the initial diagnosis, I feel confident. I feel proud of my son and his differences. I am more open to talking about them and educating others about what his unusual behaviours might mean. I know parenting is a really challenging journey at the best of times, but I finally feel ready to be there for him and whatever guide him through whatever comes his way.
Another positive is the beautiful relationship I see between all three of my children. The way they challenge their brother and push him out of his comfort zone in a way only siblings can. But also the way they guide him and show him compassion when they pick up on his struggles. My oldest son sets an example of growth, and his little brother wants to follow in his footsteps. My daughter is young enough (4.5 years younger than her brother on the spectrum) that she only sees what is unfair to her and nothing stops her from pushing his buttons!
Before autism, I don’t think I would have paid such special attention to their bonds. I would have focused on the annoyance of their fights instead of embracing how much of that agitation creates learning opportunities. I would have been frustrated with how long it takes to get out of the house, instead of celebrating how exciting it is that my son can zip his own zipper or put on his own boots! The mundane becomes spectacular and exciting again.
After being touched by an ASD diagnosis, I’ve realized that I was never meant to be a perfect person, and neither was anyone else. I have become more compassionate towards myself and others. It has been a wonderful release. I’ve let go of expectations, demands, and I’ve been able to really focus on what’s important in my life. Regardless of how that may look to anyone else. Sometimes the biggest hurdles have the greatest lessons.