Autism isn't the worst disability a child can have

Mary Duncan

*This is a work of nonfiction and opinion based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

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Six years ago one of my friends had her first child and within a year of him being born I started to wonder if he was autistic.

As a baby, Everett never smiled and rarely made eye contact.

As a toddler, he didn’t speak, and when he did finally start putting words together they were barely coherent.

Then there was the constant arm flapping, grunting, and screaming along with violent outbursts where he would hit people and throw things constantly.

By the time he was three I was convinced that he, like my own daughter, had autism — but telling his mother I thought he should be evaluated by Birth to Three ruined our relationship for a little while.

She didn’t want to hear it.

He didn’t have autism, she insisted, and told me his pediatrician didn’t think he did either.

Years later when Everett started school he was finally evaluated and, lo and behold, diagnosed with Autism, speech delay, and other cognitive impairments.

And to this day, his mother won’t acknowledge his autism as a part of his identity, because she wants so badly for her child to be “normal” even though he’s still not fully potty trained at six.

Early intervention is key, and denial is detrimental.

I’ll always wonder what Everett would be like today if he had gotten early interventions to deal with his issues, and it just makes me more glad that I did everything I could to get my daughter the help and support she needed after her diagnosis.

By the time my daughter, Tori, was three, we had a speech therapist and occupational therapist coming to the house once a week along with making sure she had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as soon as she started kindergarten so she wouldn’t be expelled if she had a violent outburst at school.

It was hard for me to admit that she needed this help, but I knew she needed it and that it was best for her even though I wished I didn’t have to think about it at all.

I wish I had the luxury of being in denial of my daughter’s cognitive impairments, but they were blatant and needed to be taken care of so I did what I had to do even though I wished I didn’t have to do it at all.

But you know, autism isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

My daughter also has Intellectual Disability (ID), a very low IQ, which makes it hard for her to learn things and causes her to be much more immature than her peers — something harder to deal with than autism.

I know a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that is deaf, blind, and lives in a wheelchair.

I have a friend whose sister recently died at age 27 of complications from spina bifida.

I have another friend whose child recently got diagnosed with cancer.

And yet, Autism scares the shit out of people.

No one wants to admit their child is different.

I know how hard it is to have to look at your child and know that they are different, and because of that difference, they will struggle more than the typical child.

Maybe people are in denial of these differences because they think it’s their fault somehow, or they don’t want to think of their child being hurt or marginalized, or they plain just don’t want to deal with a disabled child.

But autistic people are actually pretty awesome.

They have hobbies and interests that they are super into, they’re generally very kind and loving, especially as they get older I’ve found, and they’re great advocates for themselves and their own autistic community.

Yes, life is harder for those who are autistic, and it’s hard being their parents because you want so much for them to be safe, happy, and successful in life, but their paths are different so your path as a parent must be, too.

Don’t be afraid of autism.

If your child is autistic, don’t be so afraid to admit it.

Don’t let your fear of autism get in the way of getting your child early interventions if you suspect something might be up.

Autism isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a child or a parent, so count all of your little blessings, and hold your children close and love them for who they are, however they are.

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I write about relationships and parenting.

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