A month or so ago I posted a piece on the Autism Speaks website for Mother’s Day entitled “Ten Things I’ve Learned as an Autism Mom.” The piece got a great response, with many people commenting that the fourth item on my list truly hit home. It reads as follows: “You will worry about what happens to them when you’re gone. This one you will never conquer.”
All I can say is, truth.
This next statement may surprise or anger some of my readers, but it’s my truth too. I wouldn’t change that my kids have autism. I believe at least in our case the reasons are genetic, since all of my kids have the disorder. I believe it’s a fundamental part of who they are. I’m not sure I have the right to change it.
But if I could somehow alter the severity of my eldest son’s disorder, I would.
My youngest son Zach, who is high-functioning, has mild challenges with sleep and anxiety, and moderate challenges with focus and impulsivity. I currently feel (and ask me this again down the road) that the gifts of his autism mitigate the challenges- his ability to read at three, that fact that he remembers everything, his insatiable curiosity, and his hyper-focus when fascinated by a subject. Zach has learned to embrace his differences, at present feels good about them. We focus on the positive aspects of his autism here, and so far, so good.
With Justin however, his type of autism precludes him from living an independent life. And I know I will go to my grave wishing things were different.
Over the past eleven years since Justin was diagnosed I’ve done a lot of soul-searching. When he first received the “a” label I was set on total “recovery” for him, wished for college, love, friends and a career for my boy. I wanted nothing less than an eradication of his disorder. When it quickly became clear this was not in the cards for us I shifted gears and strove for him to be at least independent, able to take care of himself after his father and I are gone.
It’s clear now that wish won’t be granted either.
Still, as time has passed I’ve come to see that Justin is happy as he is, is often the happiest person in our house. I don’t believe he wants the aforementioned things in his life- I am confident he does not know what they are. I’ve accepted he won’t have all of my pretty life options.
I’ve also accepted he doesn’t need them to be happy.
What I haven’t accepted is that the severity of his disability renders him unable to care for himself, which puts him at risk for up to forty years after his father and I are dead. This truth remains, and will always be, unacceptable to me.
In fact, it haunts me.
I shelve these thoughts most days for my sanity. The worries are always there, just looming below the surface, ready to rear their ugly heads when I least expect them. If someone were to hand me a pill that would lesson his symptoms and enable him to take care of himself one day, I’d be first in line at my pharmacy.
And I run fast.
I know some readers will think I’m horrible for wanted to change him in any way. But of my three wishes for him, namely that he spends his eighty years on earth happy, productive, and safe, the last wish trumps all.
I don’t believe even with the few medical advances that autism research has brought about that I’ll ever have the option of lessening his autism. The truth is if I want a modicum of happiness for myself, I’ll have to focus on what we have now- a happy, bright, loving child who at this moment in time is wondrously safe.
I will continue to have to learn to live with that much.
But some days, many days, it’s simply not enough.
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