When my son Donovan was diagnosed with autism, my entire world fell apart. At that moment, I felt we were all alone. I had no idea what autism actually was; receiving his diagnosis was the most difficult thing I had ever experienced as a mother. Nothing really prepares you for this type of news. In many ways, I felt ignorant and very lost. One of the most difficult parts was the fact that our society creates ignorant labels such as “he’s stupid” or “his brain didn’t develop.” I can go on and on with other misinformation I have heard about autism. Instead, I want to share the journey of how I’ve coped with Donovan’s diagnosis.
At the beginning I remember thinking, “what am I going to tell my family when they question his behavior.” I was so worried about what they would think. I also felt guilt, and blamed myself. Many times I asked if there was something I did wrong as a mom, or perhaps during my pregnancy. Then there were the times I asked myself, “why me?” Even though deep down I knew I did nothing wrong, the feelings of guilt haunted me.
Then I thought about other mothers who rejected their unwanted children. I didn’t want to be that mom. With time I learned all these emotions were normal, and I began to understand it was a part of the process. It was a process of acceptance, in which little by little, I realized that I was also rejecting my son like those mothers I had judged. Time has been able to shape my perspective. I decided that if I wanted to change society and its labels, I had to first start with myself.
Now I see my son as a life lesson, because although this process is difficult, it has been a constant learning experience. Many times he reminds me that barriers are not absolutes, since Donovan and other children with his condition can have a full and “normal” life. In this regard, we need to stop caring about what society says. Truly believing our children deserve respect for their humanity is what makes us want to fight to change stigmas.
In the process of acceptance, I learned that no matter how difficult your life seems at that moment, there are many families in situations very similar to yours. Perhaps they need to know they are not alone, and like me, we need to break the labels created by society.