I wrote this essay over 9 years ago! I found it in my files and decided to share it with a parent I am coaching who is working hard to get to acceptance when it comes to his child's neurodiversity. I love supporting parents on their journey! My own honesty and vulnerability helps them feel seen and held enough to take their own vulnerable steps towards acceptance and yes, joy.
There is freedom that comes with acceptance. I wish I had learned this earlier in my sons’ lives, but I am grateful I have stopped fighting. When it came to their autism, acceptance meant failure. I thought if I accepted the autism then I was giving up. Surrender meant losing. For years, I fought this opponent over which I had no control. I am saddened thinking about all the ways I did not accept my sons, focusing more on fixing them, on treatment, on making them conform to what society expected. Letting my own insecurities about what other people would think cloud moments I should have embraced.
A few months ago, I went to the park with Austin. At 15, he still loves the park. This playground had a large, tall slide. Austin climbed the stairs excited to try the slide, but froze when he got to the top. Puberty has hit and Austin is now taller than me, he has to shave and has a deep voice. Boys his age are not going to playgrounds with their mothers. Boys his age usually don’t want to go anywhere with their mothers. This is a blessing not lost on me, to have an almost sixteen year old who enjoys my company.
So, there he was at the top of the slide bobbing his torso up and down as he often does when he is excited or nervous. In this case, both. I gave him some words of encouragement. He yelled down to me, “Are you sure? I am nervous!” The fact that he can express his apprehension is yet another blessing. I reassured him and asked if he wanted me to hold his hand as he slid or would he rather I wait at the bottom to “catch him”. As if I could actually “catch” this almost full grown man.
Minutes passed, Austin bobbed, I reassured, and a line formed behind him. Several children well below Austin’s age anxiously waited to use the slide. In the past, before I waved my white flag of surrender, this situation would have triggered a fear inside me. It pains me to know I would have let my fear come out as anger towards Austin. Watching all those children and their parents waiting for Austin and watching this teenager bob and shake and call out to his mommy for help would have made me snap. My fears of what other people might think, my fear of being judged, my fear of Austin’s vulnerability, my fear that he would never be able to care for himself, my fear that I would die and no one would care for him, advocate for him, or protect him as fiercely as me would manifest themselves in this one moment.
All these fears would come out as anger… not towards these people staring, but at my own son for simply being himself. I would have yelled at him to hurry up or get down most likely scaring him and paralyzing him at the top of the slide even longer. The fear and disappointment about Austin having autism would follow me home. It would ruin what could have been a pleasant outing to the park. The anger would then be turned inward and I’d spend the rest of the day admonishing myself for being a horrible mother.
Thankfully, on this beautiful day at the park, I had already learned the freedom of acceptance. I patiently offered Austin some help and words of encouragement waiting as long as it took for him to decide he was ready. Not one child or parent complained. He took me up on my offer to hold his hand and he slid down hanging on tight as I ran along side him…big smiles on both our faces. Next we ran to the swings and swung side by side trying to see who could get the swing pumped higher into the air. With love, and patience, and surrender, the sky is the limit.
Acceptance gives me the freedom to focus on his strengths. Instead of always worrying, always measuring him against his peers who left him in the dust years ago, always focusing on the challenges, acceptance let’s me enjoy him. Give up? NEVER! I will be teaching him, nurturing his independence, advocating for him, and loving him until my last breath. Acceptance is just going to make it a lot more fun.