For almost 9 years, I’ve operated under the belief that I must be not that great at parenting, despite all my efforts. After all, I’d never changed a diaper before I had my first child, so it’s not too farfetched to assume that my struggles are due to my own ineptitude.
Despite my insecurities, part of me knew that I must be a passable mom, because when the nurse handed Maverick to me on September 3, 2008, for the first time in my life I felt a sense of purpose so distinct that it was palpable. As we stared at each other, I thought, we were chosen for each other.
As the years marched on I’ve questioned myself more and more, but that unforgettable moment of meeting my son for the first time was what I always went back to. When faced with a seemingly insurmountable situation, I remind myself that I’m meant to do this. After all, we were chosen for each other.
I was so overwhelmed with the stress of raising a child who didn’t seem ordinary (in addition to his two younger siblings), that I turned to the only thing that has ever helped me process my thoughts: writing. I wrote and I wrote, and people responded, because let’s face it — none of us know what the hell we’re doing. I needed to understand why motherhood was so hard, and why it was only becoming more difficult. I traded ideas with women from all over the world. I read all of the parenting books and applied all of the principles.
Maybe we needed more Jesus. Maybe we needed probiotics. Maybe we needed more sunshine. Maybe something was so significantly lacking that it was screwing up our family dynamic, and if I could just find that one missing piece, everything would fall into place. Maybe Robbie and I needed more date nights. Maybe we needed more money, a different house, a new school, more kids. We tried it all, and nothing worked for longer than a few days at a time.
Although Maverick does not seem overtly unusual, I knew something was off. I struggled to put my finger on what it was, and naturally everyone had an opinion. “He’s too smart,” they said. “He’s just bored.” Robbie kept telling me that Maverick probably had ADHD, just as he did as a child, and assured me that our son would be fine.
“Nothing is wrong with Maverick,” he said, countless times.
Maybe something was wrong with ME. But I needed to figure it out, because we were chosen for each other.
I tried harder to create an interesting, stimulating environment at home to help satisfy his craving for information. His memory is incredible. He can recall in vivid detail the time I took him to the park when he was two years old and he had on his red t-shirt and lost his truck under the monkey bars. He quotes facts about famous scientists and the surface of Jupiter; after hearing a song only one time, he can repeat all the lyrics. He can add large numbers in his head, quickly.
I cut out red dye #40. I cut out processed foods. I limited screen time. I spanked, a lot. I tried time outs, a lot. We took away toys and privileges.
I cried. A LOT.
The older Maverick got, the harder he became to handle. His emotions were big — exuberant one minute, and terrible, raging fury the next. He was scary sometimes. Robbie works insane hours, and I was in way over my head. We now had a family of five, and while Maverick loves his siblings, he lashed out at them often. Every day was filled with drama, and I kept hitting rock bottom.
Over and over again, I found myself in terrible situations with my kid, not knowing what to do to make it better, and quickly running out of ideas. When no one has a child like yours, it’s very lonely. My friends offered support, but they had no advice.
Our pediatrician said he was perfectly normal. When speaking, Maverick makes eye contact and articulates like an adult. He understands humor — when he was 5 years old, he did a stand up comedy routine for the school Talent Show that brought the house down. Despite what the doctor and everyone else said, I knew either something was going on with my kid, or something was terribly amiss with me as a parent.
We were chosen for each other. This is what I kept telling myself.
I swallowed my pride and got professional help. By then, Maverick was 7 years old. They suggested psychological testing, but it was expensive, so we waited on that, and toughed it out through talk therapy. I hoped that they could tell me how to best parent him, because I constantly feel like our relationship is war-torn. My son thinks I do not like him. My son questions whether or not he is worthy of love.
Talk therapy, as it turns out, does not help much without a diagnosis. We said that we wanted to go ahead with testing.
“He’s a very complicated case,” said the psychologist, weeks into the testing process.
“No shit,” I replied.
After months of evaluation and many more issues at home, Robbie and I were called in to go over their findings. As we sat in the doctor’s office, I thought about how it took not one, but two, doctors of psychology to diagnose our son. I thought about how tired I am. I thought about how I would do whatever they said would make things better. But most of all, I thought about how we were chosen for each other.
And then he cleared his throat, and in one simple sentence, the psychologist explained why motherhood is so hard for me.
Maverick has a form of autism.
The way I felt when he told us is almost exactly how I felt when my mother told me she had been diagnosed with cancer — utter relief to finally have a reason for all the madness, followed by grief and guilt. The grief I feel over Maverick’s diagnosis is purely from all of the mistakes I’ve made over the course of his life because I truly could not understand his behavior. I misinterpreted almost everything he did and said, and that makes me profoundly sad.
Guilt and grief aside, I am incredibly proud of my kid. I’m proud of who he is and what he can and will accomplish. He has an enormous responsibility because his brain is special, and I look at this as a gift. His super brain is his gift from God, and Maverick is God’s gift to me.
We weren’t sure how or when we would tell him about what the doctors said, but it turned out that we didn’t have to. Two days after we learned of the diagnosis, I was tucking Maverick into bed when he sat up and said, “Am I autistic?”
“What makes you ask that?” I said, shocked.
“Well, I asked you that a long time ago and you said no. Do you remember?”
“Well, am I autistic?”
“Yes, Maverick, you are. You have a form of autism. It was hard for them to figure out, because most kids with autism aren’t as social as you are. You’re actually really lucky, because you’re good with people and you have a super brain!”
We spent the next hour lying in his bed, talking about how he’s always known he was different from the other kids, which is why he’s always gone out of his way to be kind to the weird ones. I told him that we’re going to learn about his brain, together, and that he is a very special kid.
“So special,” I said, “That it took TWO doctors to figure out what kind of brain you have.”
We were chosen for each other, and I couldn’t be more proud of us.
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OMG!! I had my son just a few months after yours!! And he too, was not diagnosed for quite a while. Aspergers with motor delays!! Then the schools can help and there is a whole other framework. No shame mama!! It’s not always obvious when you are in it. My son liked knowing too- we told him when he was 7. I love that we have even more in common. Not that you know me, but I am a fan!
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You never gave up on your kid… That’s what makes you an amazing mom. You just keep at it.
Harmony, Reading your story is like looking into a mirror. My son was diagnosed as Autistic when he was 8 after I spent YEARS feeling like a failure because I couldn’t make our relationship work. Wow. I’ve written a LOT about our Autism journey on my blog (www.thebamblog.com) if you are looking for a kindred spirit (or someone to tell you you’re are not alone). Way to trust your gut, mama. You are made for each other. ❤
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I found the missing piece in my own brain recently. I’m choosing the medication route, because no amount of Jesus/probiotics/prayer/antidepressants was working. I’m not on the spectrum, but I understand knowing what is missing and being able to put that piece of the puzzle back in. I’m a whole person again.
Never stop advocating for yourself or your kids.
Beautiful. Stay strong Mum. Knowing is half the battle from here you all move forward. Hugs and love
The whole time I was reading your post I was so in awe of you. You never stopped looking for the answer. You are one hell of a mom. And he’s one hell of a kid. Thanks for posting this!
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I happen to be reading aloud to my husband as we drive w our kids asleep in the car. He wanted news. I wanted something from my Feedly, so I picked this. I couldn’t get through it without crying, multiple times. You’re an incredible writer and an even better mom.
I have three children on the autism spectrum. One of them I have known, from the start that that would be the diagnosis. The two others you could have knocked me over with a feather, AND they each were not diagnosed until they were 16. That’s a really long time to not know what the heck is going on! All three are SO different in their symptoms, too. One has social issues, one has sensory issues, and one has ‘everything must be done the exact same way, in the exact same order, every single time – or I will have a freak out the likes of which you have never seen” issues. I am really glad we finally did figure it out though, because it makes the behavior less scary to know that there is a reason behind it. My son isn’t getting argumentative because he’s a rebellious pain in the butt, (which is what we honestly thought before,) …it turns out he’s just having a REALLY hard time coping with sensory issues and unforeseen changes in his normal daily routine. Meds and therapy have helped tremendously, (for ME…seriously!) But really, having that diagnosis for them has been an eye opener. Now my husband and I have been able to educate ourselves about how to best help our spectrum kiddos.
Thank you for sharing this part of your lives. If you don’t already follow her – please check out the blogger “A Diary of a Mom”. Her daughter is autistic and the blog follows their journey. I think you will have some things in common; a great sense of humor, wine and an immense love for your children – to start. 🙂 Be kind to yourself. ❤ Juanita
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I am Robbie in this story. Since our son was about two my wife was telling me “there’s something wrong” with him. Not so much wrong, of course, but something not right. I told her he’s just boy. Or he’s just a 2,3,4 year old. When he was 8 we had him tested and was diagnosed ADHD. With this info we could then make proper accommodations for him rather than excuses. Thank you so much for sharing your story!
This essay is EVERYTHING. My 10-year-old son has a team of therapists, nutritionists, tutors, and doctors managing his sensory processing disorder, disordered eating, attention issues, and overall quirkiness. Our relationship is loving and complex as hell. He is a gift and my life’s work. Thank you for sharing your journey, and congratulations for having the courage to find answers!
How long has he been in therapy?
Welcome to the club…my son is super social and makes eye contact and has an amazing memory as well. They want his intelligence tested when he is older as they suspect he might be twice gifted. He’s 5 now but I’ve been battling since he was 2 for a diagnosis and it’s taken all 3 years to get all of it. The stereotyping of autism is so destructive because it leads to beliefs that if a child is social he or she cannot be autistic. My son has mosaic 47 XYY, high functioning ASD, SPD and ADHD. I’m glad your son and you finally have answers. As GI Joe says,”knowing is half the battle.”
Do not second guess anything that you have done. You did the best that you could under the circumstances and Maverick knows that. Our journey took 16 years before we had the diagnosis. We did “autism” evaluations several times from age 4 until then, but as the criteria kept changing and my son did not fit the tight guidelines of old, he was not officially diagnosed until 7 years ago. I beat myself up over all my misunderstandings and wrong steps, but my son loves me and he knows that I did my best. He is now 23 and is taking college courses part-time, volunteers at a local museum and works as a data entry clerk 20 hours a week for a local business. There is so much more support available now – both for the age your son is, as well as for older.
The journey will be rough at times, especially with the behaviors. Just take it day by day and know that some days, you will have to live it moment by moment. But things will improve. A huge help for my son in dealing with his anxiety and confidence in being around others (usually the triggers for outbursts / meltdowns / shutdowns) has been him taking karate classes. Now when he gets anxious, he does exercises or practices karate. It calms and centers him.
You both are in for an awesome journey.
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Hunny i feel you.. i’m going thru the same thing myself…only we’re still awaiting diagnosis. My son is being assessed for adhd and asd.
I too feel I’ve tried everything and then some. I’ve been told I’m doing the right thing…all i need to do us be consistent always. Indeed, but our lives are not alwsys consistent..
I was a special ed teacher and i always felt that something about my son was not quite right. No one ever believed me till two years ago when his teacher suggested we refer him for assessment. On that day i cried because thru the years i had clung to the possibility that this was just me, being an over-protective mother, seeing things. On that day, I knew I’d been right all along.
And since then every checklist I’ve scored, every meeting I’ve had, every new issue that has come up has further shredded that possibility that I was wrong.
Tbh, i don’t even need a diagnosis, a label…if it were possible for him to get help and support without that disgnostic label, i wouldn’t even want one. All we want and need is support.
I’ve struggled and cried and tbh I’m scared of what the future will be like…will my son’s mannerisms, moods get more pronounced as he grows? Will he ever learn to manage them? Will he be able to live a full and independent life as an adult?
Idk… atm I’m doing my damnedest to take it day by day. And I’m heartened when i meet people like me…even if we’re in different countries, different countries, our worries for our kids are the same.
Hang on in there. This phase will pass too. Good or bad are not eternal.
And if you need it, I’m always up for a chat. X
Harmony, as a fellow momma of a special one, I couldn’t love this more. Thank you so much for sharing this and being so real with your journey. xo
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Thank you. You describe our family life to a T. I constantly am walking on egg shells because I don’t know which son will respond. My beautiful, incredibly sentimental, big hearted son or my Mr. Hyde. We’ve been through one round of psych evaluation and learned so much but it didn’t take away the daily struggle. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone and neither is my son.
Thank you! Thank you so much for being real for expressing exactly how I am feeling right now! We just got an autism spectrum diagnosis for my 7 year old less than a week ago! I have felt all that you described!
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Your story is so similar to mine. My son Jack was diagnosed at age 7 with high functioning autism and anxiety And finally it made sense. He can’t help that all his clothes hurt, that most food feels or tastes off, and that he can’t function if things change from what he expected. He’s so damn smart (no really, he is) but he can’t tell you why his sister is crying when he told her that her idea was dumb and would never actually work. As far as he is concerned, he just explained the truth. The best thing about the diagnosis is the help it opens up. We have resources now. The school HAS to do things for him. And even though I still HATE some of what we have to do and deal with, I no longer blame myself or Jack. It simply is and we learn how to navigate together. You are not alone.
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