(Note to readers: This title seems ominous. I am praying you trust me enough to hear out where I am going with it, and why I chose that title. — Nicole)
I can remember being about halfway through my pregnancy with J and realizing that pretty soon I would be holding a dear little person reliant upon me for life. I wondered what kind of person they would be, as most mothers and fathers do. Would he have my humor? Would he be calm and patient or loud and quick to anger? Would he be sprinkled with freckles like myself and my brothers as children or would he be clear, fair-skinned? Would he have our pale blonde hair, at least that which we three had as small kids, or would he be dark from the start? Would he love art or science?
Then the darker questions crept in. Would he inherit some of the serious mental illnesses that have plagued our family? Would his physical health be strong or would he be frail? What would his future hold?
Now, J is only almost four and a half now. It isn’t like I was pregnant in the days of old where autism wasn’t something people talked about ever, yet I remember thinking “if he deals with anything, please let it not be autism”. I was terrified of autism. I did not understand it. I thought it meant my child would be removed from me, unable to interact and unable to do much of anything. I saw the horrifying picture the media painted and knew little else, so autism scared me. It scared me more than physical, debilitating ailments. It scared me as much as cancer scares me.
Pathetic, right? Ignorance seems what I should claim when I confess this crime but that is no excuse. I didn’t know, but I should have asked.
I didn’t ask.
18 months after his birth, we knew something was going on but not what. 20 months, we had professionals confirm something was going on with little insight as to precisely what that “something” could be. By 26 months, he was given a preliminary diagnosis… Autism, that boogeyman I had so feared, was a part of our lives forever.
I feel so silly now; so naive and so stupid that I let autism scare me. What in the world is scary about autism?! It’s different. It means approaching the world in a new light. It means learning a new language because if I do not, I cannot share the world with my son. It means a whole bunch of things that may seem hard to others but are just what comes with loving this boy to me.
There is a heavy burden of guilt that comes with thinking that once upon a time, I thought autism was the scariest thing that could happen. I do not blame myself for my autism any more than I “blame” myself for his grey eyes or brown hair, it’s part of his hard wiring and that’s that… I do blame myself for having thought that in any way it would have made him less when in fact it’s made him so much more.
Thank you, J. You’ve opened up windows into a world I never would have otherwise seen. You’ve taught me to embrace different and to realize that those that are different are those who stand to teach us the most. You’ve taught me joy in the smallest success and that none of us have to follow black and white neatly typed out timetables to be brilliant, self realized people. You’ve taught me the value of best friends, two-footed and four-footed, and you’ve taught me most of all that there is strength in us even when I feel there is not.
I am sorry I thought once upon a time that “anything but autism” was an acceptable way to think about my child. You deserved better and now, you are teaching me better.