Ariane Zurcher

I was alerted to an article written by Dr. Michael Oberschneider entitled Ask Dr. Mike: Expecting and Anxious About Autism.
In the piece he writes, “Some of the happiest parents I know (both
personally and professionally) have children on the Autistic Spectrum.”
In the comments section people weighed in with their thoughts. Many
parents wrote of their outrage (and a few of their disbelief) that Dr.
Mike suggest “happy” parents of Autistic children even exist. They
seemed to equate happiness with a lack of concern. A number of parents
suggested that Dr. Mike was simply wrong and refused to believe that he
could actually know such parents. One person went so far as to suggest
he was trying to trump up more clients, which is an interesting idea,
but the logic of that argument eludes me.

Before I go any further, I have to say this — there was a time, not
so very long ago — when I was one of those parents who was incredulous
that anyone could be “happy” and have an Autistic child. I no longer
feel that way, and the reason is I stopped trying to cure my child of
herself. I feel sad that this was my experience. I wish it hadn’t
been. I know my attitude negatively affected my daughter. I know it negatively
affected my entire family. I know now that the depression I felt was
because I believed I could cure her. I was angry, I was depressed, I
believed that no one could truly understand. I felt alone and isolated
in my sadness and rage. I was engaged in a war only to realize I was
fighting myself. 

I know this now, but I didn’t then. I wish I could
hit the rewind button and do it over differently, knowing what I know
now. But I can’t. I have to move forward. In moving forward I am
aware that I owe it to my daughter to make a living amends to her for my
past mistakes. Mistakes that I cannot know and will never know how
badly they impacted her. Part of my living amends to her, beyond trying
my best to be the best mother to her (presume competence) that I am capable of is to counter the negativity and fear that continues to swirl around the very mention of autism.

Today I am one of those happy parents Dr. Mike mentions. I have two
beautiful children, one who happens to be not autistic and one who
happens to be Autistic. And yes, there are times when I worry about
both their futures. There are times when one of them does something or
is going through something and I find myself concerned. Concern is one
of those feelings, like worry, that actually does not help my child. These are things I feel and it is up to me to figure out what to do
about them. Are there actions I need to take that will help my child
get through whatever it is that is troubling them or causing problems? Are those problems something I can control or are they things that
require patience, compassion, love and support? What can I do to
accommodate my child so that they might better cope with whatever is
going on?

The single biggest issue I confront repeatedly with having a child
who is Autistic with unreliable verbal language is the misinformation,
the fear, the misperceptions, and the ignorance of those who meet her
and what they then assume because of what they see. Fear coupled with
ignorance = prejudice. We fear that which we do not know or understand. We make judgments, we believe ourselves to be superior, we then behave
accordingly. None of this helps anyone.

It makes me sad that I was once so unhappy and that I attributed my
unhappiness to my child. I know now this was not true. It wasn’t my
child who made me so unhappy, it was my perception of her and what I
believed that meant that caused my unhappiness. I assumed things about
her that I now know are not true. They are not fact. What is true,
what is a fact is this: My Autistic child is far more capable than most
people give her credit for. My autistic child does not use language
the way most people expect. Through a great deal of hard work and over
the course of many years my daughter is learning to communicate through
typing. She has proven repeatedly that she is not only aware of what
goes on around her, but she is extremely intelligent and capable. At
the moment she requires support to communicate, though we believe she
will not require that level of support in the future.

My happiness or unhappiness has nothing to do with either of my
children or my husband or my marriage. My ability to feel joy is an
inside job. It takes work to excavate all those old beliefs, to throw
everything you think you know and believe and start over. I encourage
anyone who is suffering and believes their suffering is directly the
result of their child’s neurology to examine their beliefs. Throw it
all out. It isn’t serving you and your suffering isn’t helping you help
your child. Isn’t that ultimately what all of this is about? Aren’t
we all trying to be the very best person we can each be? Isn’t that
what we hope and want to model for our children? Isn’t that the point?

April 2013 – With my beautiful friend Lauri, another “happy” parent 


Previously published at