I don’t talk about this often, but a member of my family growing up had developmental disabilities. This person had verbal language, went to a mainstream school, and lived a fairly routine life, but there were certain unique and undeniable issues. In total, it was one person out of many.
When my son was diagnosed as non-verbal with autism, I didn’t think much about the cause. Rather, I thought about the future. I worried about where he would go and what he would do. His autism, as it presented itself, was far different than anything else I had ever been exposed to.
The funny thing about an autism diagnosis, though, is that it’s usually outsiders searching for reasons. You have a bombardment of questions about topics ranging from breastfeeding to vaccinations. They all felt like stinging accusations from the lips of familiar strangers and left me reeling with frustration. It’s as if the entire world is trying to avoid having the same wonderful child you have. It’s as if they want you to feel as though you had done something wrong.
In my case, the accusations felt a bit more pointed as the general assumption was that I “caused” my son’s autism through genetics. Those horrible words were used by those who were supposed to be so close to me that it blew my mind to hear them said. I was told that they “didn’t even think there was a question.”
It shocked me because, in my mind, there were questions and this one individual in my family tree of broken branches didn’t feel like a smoking gun given all the other factors in our lives. On top of it all, the assumption was one of the most painful ones a person could make. I felt that those who faulted me for his struggles saw me as selfish for creating a life when I knew that my genetics would cause him to have a difficult path.
Forget that my side of the family wasn’t the only one to include people with disabilities. The accusation was whispered in some circles and spoken loudly in others. For many repeating it, it felt like an attempt to punt the football from their own endzone into mine.
This stinging guilt sent me down a rabbit hole of research. I began Googling everything I could to alleviate the pain. I read about how disabilities could be caused by so many different factors like a pregnant woman getting an amniocentesis, anesthesia given to a baby before the age of two, obesity of the mother during pregnancy, too many epidurals, hosts of environmental issues, improper food intake, alcohol, drugs, smoking, and tons of iffy-maybe-perhaps articles that told me one thing for sure. Nothing was for sure. There were a million reasons my son could have autism and all of them were maybes.
I began looking through this list and wanted nothing more than to go back and wave it undert the noses of those talking behind my back and to my front.
Look! My boy’s struggles aren’t my doing. It could be any of these things. It could be all of these things These things could be why he has autism!
Then, I looked at my son and I realized the most important realization of all.
In fact, I didn’t even care if people blamed me.
I wasn’t here to point fingers or find reasons for one of the best people in my life. My boy wasn’t something to dissect and assign guilt for. He is my boy. I love him. Finding out “why” is not only next to impossible but pointless.
Actually, let’s make something clear. If you’re looking for a reason why my son with autism is here, then I am definitely the person to look to. I’m also the same reason why my daughter, without autism, is here. I’m their dad. I made them. Prior to the day they arrived on this Earth, neither child asked to be born. I was one of the two people who wanted children and I was one of the two people who gave them life.
Looking for blame when it comes to my child’s non-verbal autism is something other people can do. It’s something for those who don’t know him and those who don’t love him. He’s not a chapter in a textbook or a case study in what to avoid. He’s not a cautionary tale to sell organic foods. He’s my kid and he’s wonderful. If you knew him, you’d realize it. If you do know him and don’t realize it, then there’s something wrong with you, not him.
His struggles may be real going forward and that’s something that any parent would feel a bit of guilt over. I feel the same guilt when my daughter gets into a battle with some kid at school in the town that I moved to before she was born. Every conflict and tough road they walk is on me, just as much as it’s on them. I brought them here and I moved them here. Their lives exist because of the decisions I made. Finding a reason behind why his autism happened isn’t as important as helping him navigate the world. In fact, it’s not important at all.
Blame me for my son? Sure. Go for it. But don’t call it blame. Call it what it is – credit, praise, and applause. My kids are wonderful. Most people should be so lucky to be blamed for creating someone so perfect.