She had always dreamed of being a mother. I imagined the face of my future son in every detail: his father’s eye color, my smile, his grandmother’s hair, his grandfather’s height … Motherhood has always been something as natural to me as breathing. But when my dream finally came true, it didn’t happen the way I expected. The possibility of having a child with autism had never crossed my mind.
I felt like yelling and kicking and cursing the world. Why me? What will become of him? Am I going to see him suffer? A cascade of emotions and questions rushed through me. So I decided to write him this letter, to tell him everything I feel, because with or without autism, my love for him is growing every day.
We believe that we teach our children to live, but it is they who teach us what life is.
Welcome to a world that is not made for you
I don’t know what is going to happen now. I know, I know, I’m your mother and I’m supposed to have it all more or less planned. It is assumed that he would have already made lists of the closest schools that you could go to and find a good one. It doesn’t have to be the best, I’m not one of THOSE mothers, but I would seek a good education for you. I’d have the video camera ready for every performance you did at school, and I’d spend the afternoons helping you with your science projects, because that’s what loving mothers do.
What does that mean? Yes, I know you are only two years old, but we seem to have lost our way. I want to do a good job as a mother. I want to give you every possible opportunity. I want you to be prepared to fight among the best in the very competitive world we live in, because even though I am not one of THOSE mothers, I want you to follow in my footsteps and succeed in your studies.
Like I said before, I am supposed to know what to do, know every step of the way. Thinking about extracurricular activities, private tutors, soccer team, piano lessons… I had literally written down the details of your upbringing and education before heading towards the cesarean section. So you see, I knew what to do every step of the way.
So yesterday you were diagnosed: you have autism. Now I feel like the two of us together are stranded at sea. As if a current of waves hit us hard in the middle of a storm and we could only let ourselves go. I’m not trying to scare you. But I have no idea what to do next – there aren’t many manuals on parenting children with autism… and there are many questions.
Last night, I found myself trying not to cry. I was living a duel saying goodbye to the doctor you would never become, the basketball star you will never become. I was crying for girlfriends, jobs, or accomplishments you’ll never live. It was broken for the future because none of the pieces fit.
But you know what, you know what I think now as I write this letter? To take wind with all those expectations: you would have broken them anyway, although perhaps later. And she had had to learn in the same way to be a good mother to you, to your own needs and desires.
I mean, have you seen those children who are preparing to become doctors since childhood? Don’t you want to run away before imagining someone who doesn’t know how to expel their own gases by sticking you with a needle? On the other hand, do you know the topics that some of them use in their doctorates? Do you think we need more experts in the world on “the mating habits of Pitbulls with some resistance to antibiotics”? I imagine these questions will baffle you, after all you are only two years old.
I have realized that that plan I had for you, even if you had accepted it (even if you had made that mistake), it would not be a guarantee of anything . You know what I noticed too? That you are not boring at all. You are sweet, kind and bright.
You’ll run across the room to kiss me and solve problems your way.You will even grab the cat to hug him violently when he is running away from you, which in fact, is something that we have to work on, but that makes your mother very proud. And, yes, you are my son with autism, but you are also unique and genuine. So why am I crying over plans that were broken when they never really existed?
At the end of the day, of course, your future is still unknown. But based on the little one I already know, I begin to think that you will be a happy, independent and fulfilled adult . Because, the diagnosis has not stopped me from seeing in you that intelligence and that exceptionality that fascinates me.
So from now on, from this very morning, I am hopeful that you will be treated like any other volatile, unreasonable, emotional, reactive, explosive, weird, and temperamental child. For years to come, I will cross my fingers instead of complaining, right next to the mothers of neurotic children, when you change your mind about your preschool snack. I will want to see you discover slugs and bury them like a treasure, inexplicably still alive, just as children without autism do.
I mean, my love, having autism is not an insurmountable obstacle to greatness, success, or normalcy. And I anticipate that, as you grow, it will continue to do so.You are sweet and ingenious; you are stubborn, resilient and determined. You are able. Brilliant things await you in the future. And, despite what we learned yesterday, I consider myself a lucky person, because of all the newborns I could have as children, I have you.
We have you, my love. And together we will figure out how to move on.
Having a child with autism is discovering the world anew
As dramatic as it can be to hear for the first time that you have a child with autism, the reality of the diagnosis is not as dire as we imagine. Having a child with autism simply teaches us to discover the world anew through their eyes and their genuine way of relating to it.
An autistic child is like any other child with a different way of relating to the environment. If you are also the mother of an autistic child, you will soon realize that with early intervention they can lead a good life. With your support, your child with autism and with you, in any case, will follow their own path, where they will surely find happiness.
Author’s Note: Article based on “An Open Letter to My Newly Diagnosed Autistic Son” by Shannon Frost Greenstein.