I’ve said it probably a hundred times. Maybe more.
“I get it. My kid’s on the spectrum too.”
In the beginning, when I first started working with kids, I wasn’t sure about disclosing that my son was on the Autism Spectrum. It was 2009, I just started my first job working at the schools. We’d been living with the knowledge that my son was on the Spectrum, but not for long – he was only diagnosed 2 years before. But I kept getting this feeling, this voice almost, as I sat across the table from parent after parent, weeping over the particular struggles their child with ASD was facing, that I should say something. “Tell them,” the voice in my head would say, “It will help.”
One day, I did. I got up the courage, pushed aside the box of Kleenex. “I get it. My son is also on the Spectrum. I am not sure day to day either, if he’s going to be ok. I worry too. Will he get through the day without melting down? Will I get a call and have to leave? Will it be an ok day, but meltdown city tonight when I get home? I am telling you this, because for some reason I think it might help you to know that I feel what you are feeling, a lot.” And that day, for that person, in that moment, it was a little bit better. And so I kept telling people. I still do. (And now he’s old enough to give permission, so that makes me feel better.)
Why Do I Do It?
I am not sure. I think it has something to do with trust. I know, as a parent, how scary it is to receive the diagnosis. I know the sock in the gut you get when first hearing it. I know the denial you feel, thinking it’s not really true and finding ways to explain away what’s right in front of you and fits a profile you’ve known since grad school. I know the hours you spend, weeping, gazing at your child, hoping it will somehow still be ok. I know all of those negatives and plenty more.
I also know the other side, the good stuff. I know the marvel you feel and the way your stomach lurches when your kid hits a milestone you never thought possible. I know the deep sense of pride you feel when your son learns everything he can about a topic of deep, intense interest (I can talk dinosaurs, exotic animals from Go Diego Go, and why probiotics are good for the gastrointestinal system with the best of the best, and it’s all thanks to my son.) I know the feeling, yes, of looking someone in the eye, who doubted your child’s ability, as they take in the fact that your child just aced their test. I know the joy of watching your child, after years of struggling, find great friends, his tribe, who thinks just like he does. And now, as he is a high school teen, sure-footed and strong, I know now, the intense excitement and anticipation as you watch your child head towards the future, sure to be as bright and interesting as he is.
I Live It and Love It
I tell them, because I want them to believe in me, that I’m on their side. Because I don’t just understand this disorder clinically, I live it and love it daily. I didn’t just read a book, take a class, attend a conference. I did all of that. And then my son was born, and it literally made me the clinician I am today. I want people, I want you reading this, to know this. Because if you decide you want me to help you, I’d like you to know where I’m coming from. I get it. I get you. Because I’m that too.