When my son was young (before elementary school), we had few concerns. He was happy and healthy. He had hit all of his benchmarks for walking, talking, etc. The only issue he had was a reluctance to learn to write, but we didn’t think much of it.
Kindergarten was a shock and a disaster. With a martinet of a teacher, notes came home daily about issues with behavior and attention. The problems she reported didn’t seem to match our son. He didn’t act that way with us.
First grade started better. His teacher knew something was wrong and requested a team to access him. Meanwhile, we made the rounds of doctors: pediatricians, counselors, neurologists. Alphabet soup terms were given: ADHD, ODD. Yet with every diagnosis/medicine, nothing improved.
The assessment returned the diagnosis: Autism – Aspergers. Autism – it couldn’t be. People with autism don’t talk and my son talked early and often. People with autism don’t interact with others and my son couldn’t be stopped talking about certain topics. Deny, deny, deny.
I think I went through many feelings after that meeting. The diagnosis felt like the announcement of a death in the family – no one was physically gone but certain dreams had been killed or at best, delayed. All parents have dreams for their children and as their children grow, some dreams disappear based on skills or preferences or just life. But with that diagnosis, I felt like all of my dreams had died at one time. And it hurt.
When you get that kind of news, I believe you will grieve. There are several stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; and each person may go through the stages in a different order.
I certainly denied my son’s Autism for a long time. I read book after book, researched websites and treatments, trying to disprove the diagnosis, until I knew enough to know that he had the correct diagnosis.
I certainly was angry. I was angry at God, at the world, at people who spoke unfeeling comments, at people whose kids were normal. And I was very angry at myself, because I felt like I gave this to him.
I certainly tried to bargain. Praying to God to take the Autism away, to point me to a treatment that would work wonders and make him a normal boy. And when I failed, I was angry at myself all the more.
I certainly was sad. I don’t know if it would have qualified as depression. But I overate and didn’t take care of myself. Perhaps I thought spending time on myself was selfish, or maybe I thought it was just penance for what I had done or failed in doing.
Acceptance? I have days where I think I have achieved some acceptance, some peace with the situation. And then its high school graduation time for kids my son’s age and talk of college and their futures, and it hurts so bad again. Like a wound that never quite heals and pains you just when you think you are over it all.