The All-Consuming, Unfounded Guilt

My husband and I arrive at my son’s class for share week. He is over the top excited to share about his life. Plus, Dad is here along with his baby brother. They look so cute standing in front of the class together, all three beaming. I sneak to the back of the room to snap a quick shot of my exhilarated boy when I feel these little arms rubbing up onto mine. I look down to see…him, the sweet little boy I speculate has Autism.

I smile into his sweet little eyes and allow him to continue to awkwardly rub my arms. He needs this sensory feedback, and I am here. Why not provide this little sensory snack while I relish in my sweet boy’s exuberance.

During the short period I’m in the class, I observe this little boy wandering around, not disruptive but not fully present either. Every odd movement reminds me of my own 3 ½ year old son.  Is this what mainstreaming looks like? Will my son even be mainstreamed? Wait a minute! Is this little sensory boy even on the spectrum? Does his mom even know? My burning desire to know the answer stirs even deeper now.

When you have a child with Autism, you can spot another kid on the spectrum from miles away. This might not be the case for everyone. I suppose it depends on your personality; my personality dictates research and answers. I have scoured the library, bookstores, and the web, reading everything within reaching distance that pertains to my son. I do my homework and will continue to do so.

Before my son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2, I had read 100’s of articles and a few books on the subject. I love learning, and my curiosity in regards to this topic deemed it necessary to research.

Before the sensory interaction with this little boy, I had a sneaking suspicion that he was on the spectrum, but how can you ask a parent: “Does your child have Autism?” Every morning, I watch this little boy line up with his peers and observe these symptoms that point to a diagnosis of Autism.  My curiosity dwindles as an opportunity to ask his mom never presents itself.

I’m not a timid person, but when it comes to asking a parent if their child has special needs, I fall back, as would almost anyone. A few days after the sensory incident, his mom yells my name as I walk off. I turn to see her hustling up to catch me. She continues to tell me how we had met a few years ago, almost 5 to be exact. We talk for a few minutes, when I find my entrance.

I mention that we couldn’t attend her park play date last week because my son, who has Autism, elopes (runs off). She then confirms that her son is indeed on the spectrum too. This odd feeling took hold of me; I almost start to cry. I can’t even explain why.

I feel for her and all the years of hard work that she hasn’t even shared with me yet. I am proud for her son’s progress; he has made it into a general education classroom. She doesn’t even finish her sentence confirming her son’s diagnosis before this flood of thoughts pop in my head.

We share stories for the next 20 minutes and a few tears, but what pains me most is the all-consuming, unfounded guilt she’s worn for all these years. She thought that this was her fault for not holding her son enough. When she shares this most intimate secret, we both cry even harder. I reach out and pull her in for a hug.

With every ounce of energy I have, I try to convince her that she did NOT cause this. I explain all the research I have poured over and all the books I’ve read. I try to comfort her more by explaining the painful “Refrigerator Mother” mentality that had been debunked decades ago. I almost wish those words never entered my mouth, because her eyes lit up like she understood the concept when those toxic words spewed out.

I back peddle, more determined that ever to extinguish this false guilt, and quickly explain that this theory of cold mothering is not valid. It’s an old theory that has been proven false. I begin to explain the painful history of Autism in just a few short sentences. I desperately want her to understand and embrace the fact that this is NOT her fault. I NEED her to know. This ominous guilt has been weighing on her for 5 years!

Why didn’t someone tell her sooner? Oh, the heartache she could have been spared! I have blamed myself in the past, but now I know that this was not from my parenting or lack thereof. God created our children this way, and it is not a mistake. They are perfectly and wonderfully made, the way God intended, and right where God wants them to be.

If you are feeling guilty that you may have caused your child’s special need, please don’t reside in that guilt. It is false and will rob you of all your joy. Please don’t live with this burden. With all my heart, I believe we are not to blame for this puzzling illness. Let’s press on and help our kids, instead of internally punishing ourselves.