I gave birth to my son just before I turned 25 years old. By that time, nearly every person in my small circle of friends and larger circle of co-workers/Facebook friends I haven’t spoken to face-to-face since high school had already started families of their own. So when my son was diagnosed with autism at three years old and I began delving into research about neurological developmental disorders, I made a connection with the staggering statistics. In 2014, the Center for Disease Control released data identifying 1 in 42 boys on the autism spectrum. 1 in 42.
I didn’t personally know any children like my son at that time. I didn’t know any parents facing the questions and concerns my husband and I faced. We walked a very lonely road for some time. But I did the math. I thought of all the young mothers and fathers I knew and I came to a realization: as they continued to add to their families, another set of parents would find themselves in our position, navigating life with a child on the autism spectrum. As more of my friends announced pregnancies, I secretly wondered who it would be.
In the last two years, two of my friends’ young sons have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. During those same two years, the world of social media and blogging introduced me to even more beautiful families living with autism—shout out to my girl Shannon Feltus and my favorite Instagram follower, Little Aidan. And while I know that people fear the lives we live and hope they won’t fall victim to this “different” fate, I am thankful that because of my openness about my son’s struggles and triumphs, those parents and I have bonded. While outsiders maybe pity us, we are learning, growing, evolving every day because we have no choice but to do so. In a strange way, we’re playing for the same team.
Recently, one mother text messaged me to discuss some frustrations she’s been facing. I listened and I promised her I always would. Because we need each other. So this is my public promise to any mother or father of a son or daughter with autism spectrum disorder or any other special need:
I promise to let you vent. I promise that when you feel guilty, I will tell you that it’s not your fault. I promise that when you feel angry, I will listen to your screams. I promise that when you feel defeated, I will remind you of how far you’ve already come. I promise that when other people walk out of your life, I will still be here. I promise to ask about your child. I promise to ask about you. I promise to tell you to delete those “your child this week” emails. I promise that I will root you on and celebrate every milestone and every bit of progress you and your child make because each step forward matters. You hear me? It matters. I promise to cry with you and to validate your feelings when you’re sad and asking why. I promise to tell you it’s okay not to go to that one birthday party or get-together because you’re overwhelmed and afraid people will stare at your child. Or if you want to go, I promise to give you a pep talk as you’re getting ready and to encourage you to give them something to talk about once you get there. I promise to laugh when your child does something strange that no one else understands. I promise to love your child and his/her quirks. I promise to support you as you end unhealthy friendships, leave unsupportive family members behind, and let bridges burn. I promise to share resources.
And quite possibly most importantly? I promise to slap a bitch if she tells you that vaccines caused your child’s autism.
We’re in this together. I promise.