Here I am, a year post the diagnosis, and I think I'm finally ready to talk about it. No really, after my 3-year-old son was diagnosed with autism I sent a text to friends and family with the news and then told them, "Please don't contact me, I'm not ready to talk about this!"
I knew going into the doctor's office that the outcome was going to be autism. I had read enough blogs, googled "what are the signs of autism," and heard from teachers that my little one was not hitting milestones. Getting the diagnosis was not the shocking part. If anything it felt like a relief to know I was not insane for thinking it.
What did shock my system? Having to face my thoughts, insecurities, and worries head on. They could no longer be pushed aside or ignored. Getting the diagnosis meant I had to face it all, and that just seemed too overwhelming to comprehend.
I remember taking my son to school the next day and telling his teacher the news, when she clapped with glee. I must have looked horrible, since she immediately said, "This is a good thing, and he will have access to the therapies that he needs. Don't worry, you've got this." I walked away and cried. You know, like ugly cried! She was right, the diagnosis was great for him, but felt like the start of a really bad breakup for me.
I wish I could tell you that I spent the next few weeks arming myself with knowledge and becoming a super-mom advocate for my son, but that's not true. Instead, I ate my feelings, gained a few pounds, drank too many glasses of wine, and cried a lot. I realize now that I was mourning the loss of the life I had imagined for my son. Thinking about his future now paralyzed me. I felt like I had no control and was slightly losing it.
I stopped calling friends because whenever I heard the question "How are things?" I wanted to scream. They didn't really want to hear all the terrible truths about autism. They didn't want to know how much I've cried or lost sleep. But luckily my friends never stopped calling me.
Family was harder to ignore. They would not let me retreat into a hole. They were all supportive, read up on the topic, and showered us with love. They've all had a front row seat to my son's biting and hitting and I know it kills them to see that side of him. Luckily, they just love us, and that's all we really need.
My husband took the diagnosis and became empowered. Suddenly the man that told me to stop saying this was autism had taken it all on and was thriving. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of the way he handled it, but his reaction only made me feel worse about myself. He did his research and was immediately able to accept his new role as an "autism dad." Unfortunately, he also had to deal with a wife that was becoming unraveled. But, he just loved me more and pushed me to get back to me.
I don't know when it happened, but one day I woke up and had enough. I hated what was happening, how I was feeling, and that my boys were seeing me at my worst. Autism was not doing this to me; I was doing this all to myself. Yes, my son is autistic, but he is also loving, sweet, funny, stubborn, silly, and so much more. Once I stopped focusing on autism as a negative, things began to improve. It was time to wake up and become the mom that Matthew deserved.
I did what most people do when they are ready to get over a breakup and started to get back in shape and eat healthier. However, this new healthy mantra was not to get a new man (I already have the best one!), this was to help me gain some control. I needed to be stronger for my boys. I needed to be stronger than autism.
Instead of thinking of autism as something that crept into my home and took over when I wasn't looking, I choose to think of it as a blessing. It's a window into a world that isn't perfect, but it's beautiful. Up may be down and black may be white, but it's a world that allows you the freedom to be different. Our journey with autism is still new and ever-changing. One year later, we are all stronger and grateful for the lessons it has brought us. When Matty has a good day, I'm on top of the world. When he has a bad day, I hug him a little tighter. Either way, baby boy, we got this!
My advice going forward to anyone who is close to someone in this situation is to give love and don't stop calling. Your check-in does more than you will ever know. If you are just starting your autism journey, stay strong. Trust me, you will survive, I promise.