Recent conversation with friend:
Me: I’ve been really worried about Danny making friends.
Friend: I know what you mean. I worry about my kids and their friends, too.
Me: But here’s the thing: Danny doesn’t actually have any friends.
Friend: Sure he does! What about the kids at church?
Me: Uh, no, they’re not really his friends. He never talks about them and they aren’t especially nice to him. I worry that the kids are making fun of him. I heard one kid say…..
Friend: (interrupting) Yeah. All moms worry about that, right? I mean, just the other day, someone teased my daughter about a boy who likes her.
Me: Hmmmm… yeah, but that’s not really the same as being called a “retard” by classmates, is it?
Friend: Well, I know what you mean. No one likes to hear their kid being teased.
Me: (hitting head against wall) Yeah, well, I have to run. Thanks for talking (sarcastically).
All mothers worry about their children’s futures. We worry about drugs and school and bullying. We worry about their health and self-esteem, their future careers and romantic lives.
When you have a kid with autism or any other special need, however, the worrying takes on epic proportions, mostly because these fears are so much more likely to come true than with NT kids. I don’t care what a mom of neurotypical kids says; it is NOT the same thing.
My son has high functioning autism, and I worry about his future to the point of obsession.
Now, of course I worry about my younger daughter and son. I want them to be happy and successful adults, too, but with Danny, I’m really scared. Scared that he might turn to drugs to deal with his social struggles or in order to fit in. Scared he may someday battle depression because he is so different and -everything–everything!– seems to be a bigger struggle for him.
I’m terrified of the day when he realizes people look at him strangely. I worry he won’t be able to hold a job or have a romantic relationship (if he wants one). Hell, I’m scared he won’t ever have a truly good friend.
I worry that someday all his struggles with sensory stimuli, learning and just daily living will prove to be too much for him, that he’ll just want to give up on it all, because life is just so damn hard for him.
And I worry that someday my daughter will realize that her brother is different and she won’t want him around. That she’ll be embarrassed of him and his differences.
This worry I have for my son who has autism is fundamentally different than the worry I harbor for my younger kids. OF COURSE, I don’t want any of them to be bullied, but in Danny’s case, it’s much more likely to happen. In fact, I’ve already witnessed episodes. Kids are cruel. We all know that, and many kids are the victims of bullying and teasing. I know I was. But, the thing about kids (and really, many adults) is that they are uncomfortable with people who are different. Kids who are different are very likely to get made fun of; it’s the law of the playground.
I want my other kids to go to college and get jobs, and sure, I know they could end up on welfare as easily as the next kid. But Danny? Danny who struggles with processing directions, who gets stressed so easily, who offends people sometimes by his bluntness? Yeah, SO much more likely to have problems in the workforce or even in interviews. And he is such a homebody, it isn’t such a stretch to imagine him living in my basement, playing video games into his 40s.
As parents we will always worry about our kids, but to say that the “normal” worry is the same as this is so insulting. It’s like me telling a friend whose kid has some disease that we all worry about our kids’ health, it’s no big deal.
I know I have to get a grip on these worries, and mostly I have. I work really hard to get Danny the help he needs to learn social skills, to succeed in school, to manage his stress. And I try not to think about the future too much, because when I do, it all seems so incredibly overwhelming and scary.
And the last thing I need–any of us needs–is someone invalidating or minimizing those fears. Because as much as you try to gloss over them or make them seem less significant, they are still there. And they always will be.