Dear Special Needs Moms,
I need advice.
My oldest son is nine years old. The summer before he turned eight, he was diagnosed with Level-1 autism. This is the sort of thing that used to be called Aspergers, but as I learned in the psychologist’s office that day, the experts are moving away from that name.
My son is brilliant. He reads at a middle school level and has a vocabulary to rival most adults. He understands chemistry, physics, and astronomy better than I ever have or will.
Like all children, he also struggles. But in 2019 and 2020, when we moved across the country, and a global pandemic hit, it suddenly became clear that he was not outgrowing certain difficulties another child might have left behind. It became clear that he was no longer thriving, and we all needed more information and more tools. As I said, he was seven years old at the time. Sometimes I am embarrassed it took us so long to figure this out, but in my better moments, I know that all that can be asked of anyone is to do the best you can with the information you have at any given time.
Two years have passed since we looked at the data and read the report, and brought home that diagnosis. Two years have passed since the IEP was updated and the books were purchased, and we learned to think a little differently about our little boy.
The thing is–he still doesn’t know.
We haven’t yet sat down to have that conversation with him, to say, “Hey, buddy, here’s the thing…” For a long time, I didn’t know how I wanted to finish that sentence. It took some time, but I figured it out. I know how to talk about being neurodivergent, and I know how to affirm him that he is loved and valued just as he is.
But, one gift of his autism is that he is blissfully unselfconscious. He moves through the world in his own way and rarely stops to consider if it’s the “right” or “wrong” way. And while I wish we could all define “right” and “wrong” for ourselves, I know cultural messages are loud and unavoidable. My worst fear about telling him he’s different is that he’ll start to feel less at home in his own skin and maybe start wondering which parts of him are okay and which are not.
At the same time, I feel like I am carrying a big secret around inside, and it’s beginning to eat me up. I wonder all the time who is safe to tell? What if he overhears? What if he already knows–deep down–that his brain is working a little differently?
I want to be an honest mom. I want to be a whole mom. But most of all, I want my son to feel whole. We finally have a date on the calendar to sit down and discuss it. But I’m nervous.
Special Needs Moms, please share your wisdom. How do I break the news? I need your advice.
Mom with a Secret