‘My husband took the diagnosis as an insult. ’What is your problem?’ He began to cry, ‘I just don’t want anyone to hurt him.’: Parents to son with autism say ‘he is meant to be exactly who he is’

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“Beckham was born just as the sun was coming up. I remember holding him to my chest after delivery and looking at the window to see daybreak after a long labor overnight. From that moment, Beckham had been our sunshine. Our happy and active baby who, due to his size, could open doors at nine months old and laughed at everything you did. He was easy to care for, the best cuddle buddy, and made everyone who met him smile. Everything was wonderful until I checked my notifications for an app I had downloaded during my pregnancy. Beckham was now 18 months old and I didn’t check it anymore since I had no more use for it, but the specific app I had downloaded followed your baby’s age and milestones throughout their childhood. I opened the app to find a message, ‘Hooray! Your baby is 18 months old! These are the things your child should be able to do now!’

Courtesy of Ellen Hunt

As I read through the list of milestones my baby should be passing, I started realizing my son wasn’t consistently doing at least half of the things this particular app said he should. That was my first indication something wasn’t right.

From that moment, I tried to see if maybe it was an issue with me. Maybe I wasn’t engaging him enough to reach these milestones. This is my first child and just because I gave birth doesn’t mean I’m an expert on children. I tried to get him to engage with me, to look in my eyes while I was talking to him, to follow my voice as I called for him. He would look at me for a moment and then his attention would go elsewhere. I tried to present him with a task, something simple like, ‘Could you bring me the ball?’ But after multiple times of asking and pointing, he just wasn’t understanding and would cry in frustration. I thought about it and realized he hadn’t said any words yet. He babbled, a lot, but no actual words. I had several mom friends who would always post about their kids saying their first words or mimicking sounds their parents made, but I didn’t have anything like that. I was concerned but he was doing well in other aspects and I thought he would just eventually get it. He could eat with silverware, he walked normally, he could build with blocks and throw you a ball. He was meeting so many physical milestones I just decided it wasn’t anything to be anxious about.

Courtesy of Ellen Hunt

At Beckham’s two-year appointment, his pediatrician had me fill out a questionnaire about his capabilities. As I filled out the paper, I started to become apprehensive, half of my answers were ‘no.’ His doctor came in, did his own testing routine, and talked to me about different delays, some that resolve themselves, and some that require some help from outside sources. He then mentioned the ‘A’ word. Autism wasn’t something I was ready to think about. I just continually told myself ‘eventually he’ll get it.’ My pediatrician went on to say he didn’t really want to talk to me about autism quite yet, simply because Beckham was able to do so many things it really could just be a delay. I left with encouragement to reach out to our local programs for services.

Courtesy of Ellen Hunt

Beckham was about two years and three months old when his little sister was born and when his therapies began. His speech therapist would come in and try to engage with him. They would ask me a million questions about his day to day life. I slowly started to realize Beckham was more delayed than I initially thought. Again, this was my first child. I didn’t know proper milestones and expected abilities that comes with certain ages. As the months went on and therapies continued, Autism became more and more prevalent in my mind. I didn’t want to face it. It was scary and unknown. My husband had an even more difficult time, holding onto the hope one day things would click and Beckham would start speaking in full sentences. As I started trying to talk about it more with other parents and expressing my fears, I was greeted with, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll get it’ or ‘He’s a boy, many of them don’t speak as early as girls’ and ‘Oh, my child didn’t speak till they were five and they’re at this prestigious college now! Give it time.’ While I know these comments were made with good intentions, they only made me more anxious. I felt like I was doing my son a disservice by just brushing off my concerns. If your child needs help in math do you just say, ‘Oh don’t worry, you’ll figure it out’? No, you get them help, so they have a better chance of succeeding. I was ready to go forward and accept what was going on. I was ready to talk about Autism. My husband, though, was not.

Courtesy of Ellen Hunt

At the time, when someone mentioned Beckham could be autistic, my husband took it as an insult. He had it in his head these therapists had no idea who our son was, or how bright and wonderful he was. It took a long time for him to understand they weren’t saying our son had Autism to hurt him. They were trying to help him.

One night we were arguing about it. I was trying to get my husband to see we couldn’t be ignorant any longer and we had to face the facts Autism was a very real possibility. But he stood fast, insisting Beckham just needed time, he would talk when he was ready, and we were jumping to conclusions. But it wasn’t just the speech. Yes, that was a big indicator, but there were so many other things Beckham did that pointed down the Autism path. My husband just didn’t want to see it. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, I just shouted, ‘What is your problem!’ That’s when my husband sat down and began to cry and said, ‘I just don’t want anyone to hurt him.’

Courtesy of Ellen Hunt

Any kind of negative diagnosis, when it comes to your child, is absolutely heart-wrenching. When you look at your baby for the first time, you are just so amazed at all the possibilities they have. All the things they’ll accomplish, all the memories you’ll make, and all the joy you’ll have. My husband loves his son. When he first held him, he thought of all the fun they would have, he dreamt of coaching his basketball team, of giving him dating advice, of seeing him get married, and become a father himself. Autism complicated that. Accepting an Autism diagnosis meant accepting those experiences with Beckham might never get to happen. I sat down next to him and we cried together. We let ourselves feel the pain of knowing he’ll struggle, the fear for his future, and the sorrow we had for missed opportunities with him. We let ourselves feel inadequate to be his parents. We let ourselves feel everything. Then we looked up and moved forward.

From that moment on, we became advocates. We faced our reality and laid it all at our feet, and we were able to accept our circumstances. We are spiritual people, and we know our son was meant to be exactly who he is, and we were meant to be his parents. While our experiences will not be what we initially thought the day he entered this world, we have an opportunity to witness a different kind of mind at work. Beckham is not broken nor is he disabled. He is able to see the world in a different way than my husband and I could ever comprehend. He finds joy in everything, and he loves unconditionally. He is bright and artistic and passes no judgment on others. He is strong and so clever. He’s incredible. He’s who he was meant to be.

Courtesy of Ellen Hunt

Our days are not always easy. I still have moments where I cry, where I feel unsure and incapable of being the best parent for my son, but I’m grateful as time goes forward, these moments are easier to handle. Any parent going through a similar situation to ours I offer these words. Let yourself feel. It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be sad. As parents of those with special needs, we have this overwhelming pressure to be strong at all times because we never want to be seen as not loving our children. This pressure can make you feel so alone. Please speak up, please talk about it, please express your feelings, please confide in others. You are not alone in this journey. By doing this, I personally believe it helps ourselves and our children, but it also helps others feel more supported in seeking help for their own child.

Autism is a normal, human variant of the mind, and those who have it have access to a different way of thinking and understanding. My son is a marvel and he surprises me every day. I used to be afraid to imagine his future. My thoughts were filled with what he would struggle with, but now I’m so eager to see how he’ll change the world and all the incredible things he’ll do.”

Courtesy of Ellen Hunt

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ellen Hunt. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘I fell in love at 17 and had two boys. Then the doctor said, ‘We believe Cale has autism, and I suspect your youngest does too.’: Teen mom births 2 non-verbal, autistic sons, ‘Love needs no words’

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