BY KIMBERLEE MCCAFFERTY
“You may also be worried about your kids being autistic, and I think we should talk about this too. They’re still figuring out the causes (I’m hoping if I make it to one hundred they’ll have it figured out, it’s a goal,) but genetics definitely plays a part.”
Dear Future Daughter-in-law,
For the record, I’m planning on still being around when my son marries you, but I was pretty damn old when I had him and I’m a “planner” so, just in case, I thought I should write down a few things I had to say to you.
First of all, and I hope you know this already, you hit the jackpot.
I know, you’re probably thinking this is just the opinion of a loving mom, but honestly, you have. You see, since the age of ten, our boy has been talking about getting married, settling down with his four or five kids (yup, hoping you two make some money,) and being totally devoted to the person he presently calls his “soul mate.”
Trust me, your man is not a player.
If you’re planning on walking down that long aisle with him, I’m assuming there are some things about him that you already know. Clearly, he’s handsome (yes I’m biased,) intelligent, and funny. He loves technology and little kids (he begged me for a little sister but the store was closed.) He is passionate about everything he is interested in, and that includes you and your future progeny. He can’t cook but he cleans up after himself (you can thank me now.) He loves you fully and utterly, your perfections and your imperfections equally. Frankly, he is a catch.
He is also mildly autistic.
I don’t know if this has caused you any anxiety at all, but I think we should talk about it. When our boy was little, he definitely struggled with his disorder. There were sleep issues (a gift to his entire family,) eating issues, and some anxiety about the world around him too. Just know that me and your future father-in-law and about a million other people worked diligently to help alleviate these problems (yup, you can thank us again,) all of which eventually resolved themselves with time. With hard work on his part, and equally important, maturity, he evolved into the confident, kind, amazing adult that he is today.
He is still autistic. He’ll never “outgrow” it. And for him, it’s been a gift.
Honestly, if any other parents ever read this missive, there may be some eye-rolling at my last statement, but it’s true. Granted, in his early years I needed a lot more chocolate (and wine) to get through the day sometimes, but the difficulties presented by his autism were more than outweighed by the abilities that came with it— that prodigious memory, his ease with reading at age three, and his unique world view which continues to surprise and delight those around him even now. I literally can’t separate him from his autism, and I wouldn’t want to try.
And I hope, if you love him as much as you say, you love all of him.
There’s a saying that when you get married you marry the family too (so true by the way, an aphorism right up there with “It is what it is” and “One day at a time,”) and I know you might be a little concerned about your brother-in-law, who is severely autistic. I want you to know that your man told me very clearly at age nine that while he loved his brother he didn’t want to take care of him when he grew up because he was a lot of work (yup, he’s perceptive too.) His father and I are planning on never having you two take care of him in-house. That said, I hope you’ll respect him and check up on him, and hopefully love him too. Because the truth is he is eminently loveable, and has been instrumental in teaching compassion and kindness to the father of your future children.
Yes, I know I’m laying it on thick here, but I really love this particular kid too.
You may also be worried about your kids being autistic, and I think we should talk about this too. They’re still figuring out the causes (I’m hoping if I make it to one hundred they’ll have it figured out, it’s a goal,) but genetics definitely plays a part. If you look at our boy’s family tree there’s enough quirky but bright individuals to lead me to believe that genetics is in play for this family, and I know this may concern you.
I know it concerned me when I was pregnant with your boy.
The truth is, hon, while your chances of having a kid on the spectrum may be elevated, there’s a chance that even if he was in the “neurotypical crowd” you two would make an autistic kid anyway. The truth is life is full of surprises, twists and turns. Having two autistic kids was definitely not in my life plan (understatement,) but it happened, and your father-in-law and I handled it. I won’t lie to you. Some days, it sucked. There were times when they were young that we were literally hanging on hour to hour, wondering if things would ever get better, looking for help (hence the wine and chocolate.) Sometimes, if I’m being quite honest with you, our home life was brutal.
But honestly, we got through the dark days, and both kids grew to be immeasurable easier, and so did our lives. I wouldn’t go back to those days for any amount of money (hell no!) but I will tell you they made us stronger, and made our marriage stronger too. Having autism in the house made me more compassionate, and definitely more patient (a struggle for me.)
And I promise you this. I will always be honest with you about autism, and anything else.
I want you to know if any of your kids are in the “autism club,” your father-in-law and I will be there by your side through everything.
We will help you.
Maybe, and even more important, we will get it. You two will not be alone.
I can’t tell you how happy I was when our boy told me he put a ring on your finger. You are kind, compassionate and loving, you “get” our boy, and most important of all, you make him deliriously happy. Which makes me deliriously happy too.
We love you. We’re thrilled you chose our boy to love.
Welcome to our family.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty is a regular contributor to Exceptional Parent. She is also the author of Raising Autism: Surviving the Early Years, a memoir about parenting her two boys, both of whom have autism. Her new book is available on amazon.com