Originally Published June 28, 2017
Noticing your child might have special needs is not the same as being ready to accept that your child has special needs. While I’ve had time to understand my son’s non-verbal autism and accept it as a part of who he is, my initial reaction revolved around trying to figure out why he had it and how to “fix” it.
That was a difficult time for me. For weeks, I had noticed Lucas’s mannerisms and demeanor, even at such a young age, differing from other babies. He was seeing delays across the board and, as the months ticked by, they continued to pile up.
I remember desperately searching for an alternate answer. My first instinct was that it wasn’t a real developmental issue, it was probably my “fault”. I still remember coming to a sudden “epiphany.” I had reasoned it all out in my head and the cause had to be how I was raising him. I probably just wasn’t talking to him enough. After all, my daughter spoke. Maybe I talked to her more?
In hindsight, my entire thought process was flawed. For starters, I had raised both my non-verbal son and neurotypical daughter in identical ways. While she spoke early and excelled in school, he struggled with the most basic tasks. Their upbringing, while very similar, produced very different results.
Secondly, it had nothing to do with me, but I desperately wanted it to. If it was somehow something that I was doing wrong, I could correct it. If I could fix my behavior, it could then fix his behavior, and then fix everything. We would be a human domino effect of happy endings.
Of course, it doesn’t help that people are constantly looking for either blame or cause when they hear your child has special needs. Whether it was an elderly relative implying that we simply haven’t spoken to him enough or a confused friend interrogating me about vaccines, they all have an idea of how to “fix” a situation no one asked for help fixing.
There’s nothing more frustrating than telling someone about your child’s special needs and being interrogated about potential things they think you could have done to cause them. People ask about vaccinations, flu shots, breastfeeding, and tons of other random possibilities they read about in a Facebook headline. What they don’t get is that no one asked them to help with treatment. I’m just simply telling you who my son is.
The search for a reason was something that I too was guilty for in the very beginning. As I was coming to grips with reality, there were many moments of supposed clarity that go nowhere. One of my big eureka moments involved his hearing. I woke up one day and thought, “Oh wait! Maybe he’s deaf!”
I tested my theory by whispering his name behind him to see if he turned around. When he didn’t, I silently cheered. When he did, I told myself that one didn’t count.
Of course, it all ended with a heartbreaking trip to have his ears tested. It was just him and me in the room as they set off a series of beeps to measure his brain’s response. There was no raising of hands or verbal confirmation that he was hearing anything. It was all computerized. Because of that, I didn’t know how he did until it was all over and the nurse came back into the room.
Well, Mr. Guttman, we did the test and there isn’t anything wrong with his hearing. Of course, you can do follow up testing…
She droned on with important suggestions and information but it had all turned into Charlie Brown teacher language in my head. That drive back home was the drive where I finally accepted that he had autism. It wasn’t about lack of being spoken to. It wasn’t about lack of hearing. It wasn’t about Oreo Cookies. It was about the responsibility that I had to help my son live the best life possible.
Looking back, I feel bad about all I put myself through back then. However, I don’t regret it. Those questions and hazy feelings of confusion are all necessary when it comes to learning your child has special needs. It’s normal. In fact, it would have been abnormal if my initial response to his diagnosis had been, “What’s that? He has Autism? OK. That’s cool. Want to order Chinese?”
It’s scary when you don’t know what to expect next. In the end, your fear of the unknown will never match the reality of your situation once you know it. Don’t beat yourself up for your child’s struggles. Don’t beat yourself up about beating yourself up either. It’s all part of the process. Do your what-ifs, worries, and blame. Then, focus on what’s truly important. In the end, if you love your child, none of it matters anyway.