Every parent reacts differently upon hearing the news that their child has autism. My oldest son’s diagnosis came as a surprise and I took it hard. Very hard. The year following his diagnosis was one of the hardest years of my life to date.
One of the first things I did after receiving his diagnosis three years ago was to get online and Google autism. I needed to learn about this lifetime disability that my son had just been sentenced with. There in the vast land of cyberspace popped up 77,700,000 results. Well done Google. As I sat at my desk scrolling through pages and pages of autism research, news, and therapies I felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with information, overwhelmed with this new responsibility and so completely overwhelmed by my emotions. I didn’t ask to be a special needs parent and I certainly didn’t want to take on the responsibility of wading through the mountains of conflicting information online in order to properly advocate for my son. But I soon realized that no one was going to do it for me. Desperate for answers, a solution, a cure, I dug right in.
I read many articles touting the wonderful benefits of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and just knew that was exactly what my son needed. I began making phone calls and demanding 40 hours a week of intense ABA therapy for my two year old son. After their laughs died down, I was told that we didn’t have any ABA certified therapists in our area. They said I could drive over 70 miles away for an ABA therapist but it probably wouldn’t be covered by our insurance. What do I do now? I was positive that ABA was exactly what my son needed to treat his autism but it wasn’t available to him. I got angry and blamed the rural area we lived in. I blamed my husband for not being willing to move to a city that would provide better services for our son. I blamed the therapists, doctors, insurance companies and even the president.
I got back on the internet and did more research until I discovered another autism breakthrough, this one promising even better results than ABA. So I bought the book, joined online groups and researched everything about it. I was positive that this was going to be the thing to fix my son. I would be the mother who loved her son enough to figure out the missing piece of his puzzle and fix him.
This type of research, obsession over a particular therapy, glimpses of hope and then disappointment went on for well over a year. I was scared and desperately seeking answers. I didn’t want therapies, I wanted treatment. My son was going to beat this. I didn’t understand then that autism wasn’t a disease that needed to be treated or cured. It’s a lifelong neurological disability that doesn’t just go away. Looking back now, I should have been spending more time learning about autism than researching how to treat it.
In my search for the cure I came across article after article reporting the latest breakthroughs in autism. When I Googled autism breakthroughs I got 594,000 results. In an instant I was inundated with marketing ads and endorsements from enthusiastic parents amazed at the vast improvements their autistic child had made by doing x, y and z. Some even called it a cure.
Many of these breakthroughs are being sold in the forms of books and educational videos. Some even offer seminars where you can attend to be taught “groundbreaking methods that have helped millions of parents from around the world.” I was hooked as I watched with my very own eyes videos of children that couldn’t speak and now they were talking. Proof that these things were truly breakthroughs.
Then I stumbled upon the vast list of autism diets. Here I found thousands of parents overjoyed at the differences in their autistic child after they removed x, y or z from their diets. You can go in debt purchasing the mountain of informational items being sold on autism diets in the forms of books, DVDs, members only sites and support groups all with the same glowing recommendations for parents “just like you and me” that did this one thing that made their child’s meltdowns, sensory seeking behavior, lack of eye contact, or social awkwardness disappear.
I am not saying that any of these diets or treatments don’t work. What I am saying is that none of these diets or therapies qualify as autism breakthroughs. Instead let’s call them what they are, tools to be tried and, if found effective, added to your child’s toolbox to help them live fuller more independent lives. None of them are in and of themselves breakthroughs or cures for autism.
What makes my skin crawl and my lip curl is watching the media pound out one article and video after another using the words, Autism Breakthrough. It’s clickbait, sensationalism and preying on emotionally distraught parents that are desperate to help their child.
The only true autism breakthrough, in my opinion, is acceptance. It wasn’t until I stopped searching for the cure and trying to fix my son that I could see that he wasn’t broken. He didn’t need to be fixed and he didn’t need to be cured. The only thing he needed from me was to be his Mommy.
That’s when I realized that it wasn’t him that needed to be fixed after all, it was my perspective that needed to change. Suddenly I could see my son again and not just his autism. I could see him smiling and laughing and showing affection in his own way to his brother, his grandparents, his daddy and me. He’s happy. This is his life. Who’s to say he would have wanted the life I had planned for him anyway? It is my job, as his mother, to give him the tools to help him succeed in HIS life. His successes, not mine. He’s an individual, unlike anybody I’ve ever met and I am so fortunate that I get to call him my son.