In hindsight, I knew my son had autism while I was holding him in the hospital just after birth. I became vocal about my concerns to our Doctor by his first birthday and by his 15 month checkup I was asking our wonderfully optimistic pediatrician if he was going to refer me to a developmental pediatrician or if I had to find one myself. I knew when he wasn’t smiling at a couple months old, and I knew when he wouldn’t respond to his name. I knew when he wouldn’t make eye contact with us. I just knew.
By the time he was 18 months old we had seen the top professionals in town and we had been given the diagnosis. The moment after I heard the words “I’m sure he has Autism”, I cried. That was the one and only time I ever grieved for what my son may not become. From that moment forward I decided to never put limits on him and allow him to thrive and be everything he was meant to be.
“I Waited So Long to Come Out of the Autism Closet”
Seven years later we now know how much progress can be achieved and how absolutely amazing these kids can be. Over the years I stopped worrying so much about whether he would be put into general education classes or if he would like sports or group activities and instead I embraced and celebrated what he loved to do and what areas he thrived in.
So if I fully embraced who he is, then why did it take me until after his 5th birthday to use the word Autism?
I was very open about his “special needs” and his receptive and expressive speech delays but I simply did not want to use the “A” word. For starters, it is shocking how many people still go to the movie Rain Man in their minds when they hear the word Autism and I hated that comparison. Also, even though Autism education is more and more present, many still do not realize that it is a spectrum and that there are so many varying degrees and levels of this disorder. I felt that if I kept our description vague then people wouldn’t make judgements before getting to know my son.
I had no idea what he would be like at 7 or 8 years old and so on and wondered if the diagnosis would be something he’d want to share for himself instead of me sharing it for him. I wanted my son to be able to share his own story if he wanted to, so for the first few years I had a hard time even being with other moms who would talk loudly about AUTISM within earshot of others. I noticed that kids were more kind and compassionate to children who were a bit “different” if the special needs had been disclosed and explained to them.
By kindergarten, I knew that he would he in a specialized ASD classroom, and I felt it was time to share our truth. By the time he was six I was freely sharing his diagnosis and sharing resources with anyone who asked. I now find myself telling people every day that my son has Autism and even when I could simply say that I have 2 sons I choose to add the extra information about my son with Autism. I do get the pity look almost every time I share his diagnosis with anyone who isn’t in the special needs community but I quickly tell them how amazing and delicious he is because he is absolutely our blessing not our burden.
It took me longer than perhaps it should have to feel comfortable giving my son a public title because I worried about judgement and preconceptions but coming out was the best thing I could have done for me and for my son. I met amazing moms who completely understand the challenges we face and my son is embraced by literally everyone he meets. Kids from school yell hello to him if we see them out in public and his school mates volunteer to be his special buddy. I genuinely believe that if I had stayed in the closet about his Autism, he may have been accepted less because the other kids would not understand why he was behaving differently and perhaps would be put off by him instead of embracing him.
I understand why other moms choose to stay in the closet but I cannot express enough how very important it is for the entire family to come flying out and shout it from the rooftops. We are proud of our Autism!
Darcee Hope Matlen is a Wife, Mom, Author, Blogger, Manifestion Coach, product designer and Business Owner. All of her brands and services can be seen on www.darceehope.com.