So now you know. After weeks or months or probably years of knowing in the secret place in a parent's heart that KNOWS, now you know know. You have doctor's paperwork, an evaluation, a diagnosis in black and white. You're feeling all kinds of things I'm sure. Some of them true to yourself (anxiety that they won't be accepted, eagerness to learn to do ALL THE THINGS to support them, sadness that others might treat them negatively, see them negatively, after hearing this news.) Some of your feelings, though, are born out of societal training, because even though you may not realize it now, you are a product (we all are) of a society that trains us to see disability as negative since the day we are born.
I just want a HEALTHY baby.
Stop saying he might have a disability, don't say THAT! He is just walking late and talking late but he's totally normal there's nothing WRONG with him!
Are you sure she has THAT? She's such a sweet little girl!
These words and ideas slither into our brains and get stuck there, and they may have you feeling distraught at this news, angry and grieving, feeling dread and wanting to run away from the prospect of raising a child who is different, whose whole life will be on a different path than the one you imagined yourself walking with them.
Mamas and papas, I need you to listen to me, really open your mind and heart to these words, because for your sake and for your beautiful baby's sake, I need them to cut through those other words and reach you at your core, in the place where you know the difference between sacred truths and insidious lies:
There is nothing wrong with that baby. There is nothing wrong with your precious baby. There is nothing to fix here. They don't need "aggressive early intervention" or hours upon hours of weekly therapy. They don't need to immediately enroll in a special autism specific school. They don't need ABA therapists training them like a dog to walk normal, talk normal, have "quiet hands" and a verbal voice.
This diagnosis is not an emergency, or a tragedy. It's an invitation.
To slow down and listen, and notice. To read body language and learn to read the cues of a little person who doesn't think the way that many of the rest of us do. To learn about the neurodiversity community in all of its wild and wonderful uniqueness. To discover that societal norms are so very overrated and that there is nothing wrong with feeling your feelings intensely and having strong preferences and enjoying sensory experiences with one's whole body. To learn that verbal speech is but one kind of communication among many.
You have been invited to an incredible club. And I'm here to tell you that many people, even other moms IN THIS CLUB, do not see it for the privilege that it is. Sadness and victim mentality and anger and refusal to accept one's child for who they are are all common in this community, tragically.
But with all of my heart, I want you to know that there is a different way. There is a different way.
You can love the child you have, and delight in them and all of their unique differences. You can pick and choose therapies that are actually helpful, and focus on learning new things and adapting the world to fit your child's needs, and not on fixing/curing/changing them.
You can listen to the small voice in the back of your mind, the one that comes from your soul, that knows the truth about your child, that has always known: there is nothing to fix, nothing to cure, nothing to change.
An autism diagnosis is nothing more than a new word to describe your unicorn, a new adjective to help others (and your family and your child themselves) understand the way that their brain and body experiences life.
Congratulations on receiving this incredible invitation to expand your knowledge of what it means to be human in all its wild and wonderful forms, Mama. Every mom should be so lucky.
To my nuerodiverse autistic babies: I love you I love you I love you. Mama loves you so much. You are exactly right, just as you are. I would never change a thing about your wonderful selves.
Happy Autism Appreciation Month. May we someday see a world where autistic people are widely celebrated.
If your child is newly diagnoses with autism and you don't know where to start, The Autism Self Advocacy Network is here for you and your child! Click here to learn from them.