You don’t know me. My name is Carrie.
I just wanted to say hi because I know about today.
Today is the day that somehow divides a childhood, a marriage, and a family. It is both the beginning of something and the end of something all at the same time. There was before, and now there is after; from this point forward everything will feel different, changed.
I know it was hard, hearing the doctor’s words and seeing everything typed out in black and white on all the forms and the questionnaires and the papers.
I know this because I have stood where you stand.
I remember the day that my son Jack was diagnosed with autism. It was a chilly, gray afternoon in November—the kind that makes you put your hands in your pocket and wish you thought to wear a hat. It was a Tuesday.
Before that day, I carried an uneasy feeling around with me like a suitcase full of dirty clothes. I watched him so carefully all the time, and when I wasn’t watching him, I was watching everyone around us look at him and narrow their eyes and look away fast.
Jack and I came straight home after the appointment and right away I called my husband Joe. I told him all about the things the doctor said—how our 18-month old son was on the autism spectrum and he was severely speech delayed and he maybe had trouble relating to others and understanding facial expressions.
On the other end, Joe was very, very quiet. I could hear people in the background talking but he didn’t say a word. Then he offered to pick our other two sons up from the babysitter and grab a pizza for dinner on his way home. I told him that sounded okay.
But when I hung up the phone and looked at Jack sitting on the floor turning a plastic Little People figure over and over in his hand—he was obsessed with Little People in those days—I felt oddly deflated.
I mean, this was the day, you know? For nearly a year we’d been waiting and holding our breath and hoping and not-hoping, and here we sat, holding a diagnosis in our hands like a shiny new penny. It deserved attention, or some kind of acknowledgment. I wanted to recognize it; to name it.
When Joe got home we just ate our pizza quiet-like and gave the boys a bath all together in the big tub upstairs. After they went to bed we I sat on the couch together, holding hands. I may have cried a little bit.
Jack is twelve now. I think you would like him.
Or maybe not. Maybe meeting him would make you feel a little nervous. Maybe you would hear him ask ninety-two thousand times if we’re having chicken for dinner and watch the way he picks at his cuticles and you would think to yourself there is no way you can handle this, it’s too much.
It is too much. But still, I know you can handle it.
I don’t need to tell you that statistics show a sharp rise in autism spectrum disorder around the world and now it’s estimated that nearly one in sixty-eight children are affected.
I don’t need to tell you about the way you will toss the concepts of high functioning and low functioning around in your mind like a poker chip on a long, smooth table in a Vegas casino.
I don’t need to tell you that autism can blow a marriage apart.
I want to tell you the things you don’t already know.
If I could, I would both take your hands in mine and look into your sad, tired eyes and tell you the one thing no one in the world will tell you.
It is not your fault.
That’s right, it’s not your fault he has autism.
It’s not because he slept alone in his crib instead of in your bed, or because you chose to use a bottle instead of breastfeed.
It’s not because when he was a toddler you fed him M&M’s so he would sit on the potty even though M&M’s have red dye in them.
It’s not because you vaccinated.
It’s not your fault, my sweet scared fragile autism mama. Let me, a perfect stranger, absolve you of your imaginary sins. Forgive yourself.
There’s one more thing I really want you to know, and it is this.
You are not alone.
Can you hear me? Can you hear my voice? You are not alone. You never were.
I mean, look at it this way; if one in sixty-eight children are diagnosed every year, and there are a lot of children all over the world, well, then this means there are approximately forty-two million thousand other moms just like you.
Moms who cry themselves to sleep at night, and wonder what will happen if they were to die suddenly, and walk into story time at the library with sweaty hands and a pit in their stomach.
We stand together with you, always.
All those hard, hard years when Jack was a little boy who never slept and scripted random passages from his Little People videos in a stiff, robotic voice, all I wanted was for someone to tell me how this was going to turn out. I longed to know another autism mama who was maybe five or six years ahead of us.
Right now, you are at the beginning and I am somewhere in the middle and neither one of us can see the ending. I promise you, though, that if you can remember it’s not your fault and you are not alone, well, you can do anything.
You can get through the tantrums and think about having another baby and lean against your husband’s shoulder after a long, hard day.
You can find sweetness in the silence, and magic in the mess.
You can repair, and love, and laugh.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling sad or depressed or at the very end of my frayed rope, I imagine the entire round earth covered in wildflowers—even Antarctica, where I think it’s hard to grow stuff like that because it’s really cold.
I close my eyes and everywhere I look there are red and pink and purple and yellow and white flowers with brilliant green leaves and long, strong stems.
Some need more water than others. Some need extra fertilizer, or a certain kind of soil in order to grow. Some tilt their silky blossoms to the bright orange sun and soak in as much heat as possible, while others curl inward toward the cool, dark shade.
Each and every one of them is different.
Yet each and every one is a flower. Each is colorful and beautiful and vibrant and rising.
It’s not your fault.
You are not alone.
I think I’m going to call it Jack’s Day, after my own special wildflower.