Parenthood. It’s a beautiful thing.
As soon as that pregnancy test shows positive or that adoption call is received, your world changes. Your hopes and dreams are modified to include hopes and dreams for your children. Visions of holidays and birthday parties dance in the air. The word “Mother” or “Father” is suddenly not old-sounding, but kinda cool. Your whole life is changing and you can’t wait for that child to be born.
The child appears and is more beautiful than ever. You can see yourself in them. Your life instantly changes to a focus on keeping them safe and building a better future.
The months go on. You share laughs. You share cries. Everything Parenthood was meant to be, it is. Nothing is more beautiful.
Then one day you notice something. Another day you notice something else. At first, you ignore it or pawn it off, but then your friends and family ask if he/she is “okay,” or your spouse suggests seeing a doctor, or you start reading online about why something isn’t right.
That special spark changes to concern. After all, your job is to keep them safe.
The concern builds. You see sparks in other children that your child doesn’t seem to have. You see behavior that isn’t typical, yet you question what typical really is.
One day you choose to stop playing doctor and go see one.
The word Autism is spoken.
A word that slightly touched your vocabulary before, but was rarely ever used. A word that was seen only in articles you read. A word that never entered your household. A word you really don’t even know the meaning of.
The world stops.
You say it again. Autism.
How? Where? Why?
It can’t be real.
How do we beat this thing? Is there a pill? Can we just give him a shot? He’ll be okay by Sunday — he has to be.
My child doesn’t have Autism. That’s crazy.
Oh, but he does.
New Parents should know that everyone has a different experience, but almost everyone goes through the same feelings.
“Autism is my fault.” “How did I give my child Autism?” – So many phrases like these will circle in your head. You’ll lose sleep. You’ll blame yourself. You’ll blame your spouse. You may even blame the mailman. It’s okay. We all went through this. It’s nobody’s fault. You are not responsible for Autism. You are responsible for keeping your child safe. You are responsible for helping them grow. You are responsible for so many great things and blame is not one of them.
“What did I do to deserve this?” “I can’t do this.” “I’m not cut out to be a special needs parent.”
First, you didn’t do anything wrong. He/she was made this way.
Second, you were cut out to be a parent. And that means loving your child NO MATTER WHAT. If we all had a choice, I’m pretty confident that a football star, rock star or Mark Zuckerberg would be the first choice for our children.
Sadly, that isn’t what happens. We learn to play the cards that were dealt and that’s what makes a great parent – not wishing for the best of the best but loving what you have. The sooner you realize that your child has nothing but unconditional love for you, and that you are the guardian of the person they will become, then the sooner your actions will help their development. You may not have chosen to be in this situation but you can choose how to deal with it going forward.
You will hate yourself. You will hate your spouse. At times you will hate how Autism makes you feel. It is OKAY. We all did. Many still do. But the great thing about anger is it goes away. Remember those four magical words: You are not alone.
Trust me, I’ve been there. The parent feeling alone, fighting the world of typical kids and happy marriages. Everyone else had something beautiful. I was robbed. I was angry. I checked out. Then something magical happened. I saw my child. I saw who he was. I saw he needed me. I saw he loved me. I saw he never judged me. I saw he wanted to be like me. I saw he laughed with me. I saw everything. All I had to do was open my eyes.
This will happen to you. Why? Because love conquers all.
You will lose friends. It happens to all of us. But you know what? With every life change you lose friends. If you change jobs, get married, move miles away or stop dating the hot one … every turning point in your life will involve losing friends. The delusion is believing many of these people were real friends to begin with. You might have 300 “Facebook friends,” but if you can count your true friends on one hand, than you are luckier than most.
You’re a parent now. In fact, you just gained your new best friend for years to come. Your child. This is a time to focus on your family and not those who are just visitors in your journey of life. New friends will appear. Some will be awesome. Some will make you gossip. Some will spill secrets. Some will annoy you. Enjoy the sport of understanding people again. It’s fun and certainly a nice break from watching Thomas the Tank Engine for the thousandth time.
My favorite. Your child will embarrass you. And not the way typical children will. They may hit you, scream at you, throw shit at you — all in a public place, while making sounds and body movements resembling those of master circus performers. You will look like the parent who can’t control their child. You will feel the eyes of everyone around you. You will feel alone in a sea of judgment. This will happen over and over — and then … one stranger will say something so kind and incredible to you that all of the embarrassment will be gone. You will find strength from that single moment to be Super Mom or Super Dad and say Heck yeah – that’s my child and I am so proud of him.
No one has all the answers for the set of challenges you face. No Grandparents. No Friend. No Doctor. No Teacher. No Advisor. Some can help. Some will guess. Others will have no clue. Many of them are also experiencing the uniqueness of your child as much as you are. One of the most popular quotes in this community is “When you meet one child with Autism, you have met one child with Autism.” A beautiful set of words, defining how unique every child on the spectrum is.
What I can provide are words of comfort and wisdom from being a parent who shattered and then found himself again, and its simply words my parents told me many years ago: “When you fall, get back up.” Your parents likely said the same thing. And you know what, our parents were right. The key is to get back up early and never, ever let the challenges keep you down.
Almost every new parent of Autism (and almost any special needs child) will go through these stages. Just always remember these four magic words.
You are not alone.