When couples make the decision to add a child to the family, the image they picture is usually of the perfect family, happily adoring this tiny little thing that has suddenly become the center of the universe. When thinking further into the future, parents tend to imagine their children growing up to be happy individuals and valued members of society. These future images rarely involve anything out of the ordinary. Thus, it is always a severe blow when people learn that their child has some kind of a condition that is likely to affect their future prospects.
Being told that your child is autistic is that kind of a blow. In my last post, I talked about the overwhelming feelings that immediately follow that kind of a verdict; the disbelief, emptiness, and sorrow for the lost future you imagined for your child. In the darkness of your own thoughts, you cannot help but think to yourself: “Why me? Why my son? It’s so unfair!” However, as bizarre as it may sound, there are positive things attributed to an autistic diagnosis. Of course, no one would choose this reality over that of having a “normal” child. No one wants their children to struggle for things that others take for granted. I was no exception and naturally, learning about the diagnosis was devastating. Yet, despite my general feeling of despair and hopelessness the first few days and weeks after the diagnosis, there were a few positive things that kept me going. As they were aspects that helped me face the truth and eventually come to terms with this new reality, I figured they might help others as well.
1. A New Appreciation for Your Child’s Abilities
Our son had always had developmental issues from the very day he was born. He was born 6 weeks prematurely and therefore naturally smaller and less developed than a full term infant. The first days of his life, he was in an incubator and we were allowed to hold his hands and stroke him through these two holes on the box. He did not have the coordination to breastfeed as he didn’t have the ability to breath, suck and swallow simultaneously. Later on, it became apparent that his motor skills were delayed and as an example, he was 19 months old when he finally took the first step without external support. After he turned 2, it soon became apparent that his linguistic abilities were also delayed. As his age mates gradually begun talking to us when we picked our son up from kindergarten, he barely spoke, using only one or two words at a time, rather unintelligible so most people did not understand what he was saying. All in all, we were used to our son being behind on most of the developmental milestones.
As soon as he got the autism diagnosis everything changed. Instead of focusing on his inabilities, we learned to appreciate his abilities, many of which are far from given in an autistic child. Instead of worrying about his backwardness and what he was lacking, we became indescribably proud of our amazing, persevering, lovable boy who could speak, who could (and actually loved to) play with other kids, who could physically express his love to us. Suddenly, his abilities changed from being lacking to being rather extraordinary.
2. The Self-Accusation Diminishes
Due to our son’s slower development, we were constantly accusing ourselves for not being good enough parents. I remember times when I’d convinced myself that I was a horrible mother and literally loathed myself. Despite the numerous hours a week where we read books with him, did speech exercises and practiced his motor skills, it was never good enough on our part. Yes, we knew that he’d been born prematurely and that he had this thing called ‘low muscle tone’ that affected his motor skills abilities, but in regards to his speech in particular, we did not have any easy excuse. So… we blamed ourselves.
After the diagnosis, the constant self-accusation diminished substantially. We started seeing the truth in what our closest friends and family had always told us; that we were far from being unfit parents and that we probably spent more time than average stimulating our son. Although I wouldn’t say that the self-accuastion tendency has disappeared completely, it was as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from our shoulders.
3. A Diagnosis Leads to More Support for the Child
Usually, there are strict rules about who can receive support through the social system and to what extent. Naturally, the amount of support also depends on where you live and the social system in that given region. However, the general rule is that the more severe the condition, the more support you get. An autism diagnosis is usually considered to be a rather serious situation and as such, is likely to lead to more developmental support, such as training in social skills, speech therapy, etc. As already stated, the whole circumstance is far from ideal, but receiving more developmental support is obviously something positive for the child.
4. Your Child Is Still the Same Child
This might seem obvious and not necessarily sound too positive in itself, yet it’s still something very important and easily forgotten. When the news of our son’s diagnosis hit, at first, all I could think of was the future he’d never have (something not necessarily true). The grief for that lost future was immense and I felt as if my son had been labelled autistic with a big fat stamp on his forehead. Then it suddenly hit me that despite everything, he was still my ever joyful, whole-hearted, amazing boy that he’d always been. He hadn’t changed one bit after the diagnosis and in that respect, nothing had changed, least of all my unwavering love for him.