This is not a pandemic post. But in order to get to the main point, I have to start with the pandemic.
See, one of the gifts of this time is that I have gotten to know my kids. I mean, I knew them before. But after nine months of intensive time together, I REALLY know my kids.
Admittedly, that has sometimes involved desperate parents with glazed eyes wondering aloud how long it will be before babysitting and a night out are back on the table. But all in all, it’s been a gift.
I’ve learned things about my kids I didn’t know. I’ve learned things I maybe should have known but missed in the busyness of pre-pandemic life.
A lot of that has been delightfully beautiful, like perfectly executed ballerina twirls and skillfully shaded pencil sketches. Some of it has been hard, like learning how to support kids through anxious and unsettled times, or how to talk about racial injustice.
I also learned that my son has autism.
From this vantage point, it’s pretty obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me more than a year ago, when our pediatrician mentioned it as a possibility. I remember responding, “This doesn’t look like autism to me.” I had more to learn.
It took us a year on a waiting list to get in with a developmental medicine specialist. That appointment came just a couple weeks ago, but by then – after those months of quarantine with my kids – I was pretty sure what the outcome would be. As suspected, we left the office long after dark with an expanded set of diagnoses: ADHD, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder.
Let me be clear: this isn’t bad news. Jon and I aren’t grieving. This is an important step in a learning process. It’s one more way we understand what makes our son tick and how we can best support him. As I told Corin that night, “You’re the same kid you were last night and the night before that and every night before that. This just helps us understand you better.”
And that’s the crux. The label is only helpful in the ways it helps us know our son, celebrate his many strengths, and help him with the stuff that’s hard.
A diagnosis isn’t an end point. It doesn’t tell us who Corin is. It does unlock more information and help pieces fit together that we all – Corin included – struggled to understand for so long. It tells Corin that he’s not broken. His brain is just wired differently. It helps explain why some things are much easier for him – for example, deep focus and learning in subjects he’s interested in, fantastic creativity, and a remarkable memory for details – and some things are harder – like some executive and social functions.
A diagnosis can help us feel less alone. While every autistic person is unique (let me say that again: every autistic person is unique), there is a worldwide community of millions who share some common traits and experiences that set them apart from neurotypical people. Corin is reading an introductory book written by autistic self-advocates. He is seeing himself in those pages. Things that felt like a mystery click into place.
Corin is still processing what all this means. I have watched him struggle with a realization that many things that make him who he is also make him different from his peers.
But we are here to beat a relentless drum of acceptance. We tell Corin: “You are beautifully and wonderfully made. The Creator who knit you together knows you more intimately than you know yourself and loves every molecule of you completely. He has great plans for you. Your family knows you and loves you exactly as you are. You get to define what you want your life to be, and we will be right here, supporting you every step of the way. When things are hard, we’ll figure it out together. There is nothing wrong with you. You are Corin – and that will always be amazing.”
I have a lot more to learn. We all do. We’ll be learning more about who Corin is for the rest of our lives. The same goes for Lina. But I have discovered such freedom in knowing that I don’t have to hold my kids to some fixed, external measure of success. In fact, I don’t define their success at all. (Confession: When I try, it often turns out I set the bar too low.) My kids will forge their own paths. I’m here to encourage and support. And you’d better believe, I’ll be here fighting like hell to make sure the world recognizes my kids for who they are and all they have to offer.
As we have shared the news of Corin’s autism diagnosis, some common reactions and questions have surfaced. I plan to share another post in the next few weeks in Q&A form, to help talk about this path we’re on. Our family has always been very open about our experiences, and we think it’s important to continue that now. (Corin has approved this post!) So: If you have questions about autism – maybe ones you’ve been afraid to ask – or about Corin and his diagnosis, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will do my best to use this space to share resources and what our experience has taught us. I am no expert, but I invite you into our learning process. I hope to hear from you!