Slightly Insane Mom

"All mothers are slightly insane." –J.D. Salinger
May 27th, 2014 by Molly

Diagnosis pt. 2: In Which I Get Snarky

This is the second in a planned 3-part series on Sgt. Snowflake’s diagnosis. He was recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism (Asperger’s) and ADHD, combined type. Warning: these posts are heavy on the feelings, light on the humor. If you want humor, go read about my dog’s boner. You can read part 1 of the diagnosis series here.

Let me start off this post by saying that by and large, people are awesome. When I posted a request for information on autism and ADHD on Friendface, my friends came through with more resources and words of support than I ever imagined. This post isn’t about those people. This post is about the people who don’t know how to react, and so they say whatever foot-in-mouth nonsense first crosses their cerebral cortex.

A Handy Guide to Saying the Right Things to a Parent of a Child with Autism

So let’s say a parent comes to you and says, “My child has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.” Here are some things you might want to avoid saying:

“What a shame.” You know what’s a shame? Kids with terminal illnesses. World hunger. Illiteracy. Violence in our inner cities. Priorities, people.

“I wonder if he’ll ever [go to prom/play football/go to college] now.” There are a lot of things my kid might not do. But last time I checked, you’ve never been to the moon or discovered a cure for cancer. What’s your excuse?

“Do you think it was something you did during pregnancy?” Yep. All of that air I was breathing and genes I was passing on. Definitely all my fault. Thanks for reminding me.

“My friend’s roommate’s nephew had that, but he grew out of it. Maybe your child will, too.” Anecdata is SO helpful!

“You’re getting a second opinion, right?” I dunno. I figured I would just wait for you to go get a Ph.D. in neuroscience and prove the first doctor wrong.

“I sell a line of supplements that’s been known to help with that.” Let me take your business card and I’ll get back to you.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’d never guess it by looking at him.” And you expected autism to look like… what, exactly?

“He’s probably acting out for attention.” I know, right? Why can’t he just shave his head and pierce his nose like normal attention-deprived preschoolers? Jeez.

“I bet it was that MMR vaccine.” You’re probably right. Jenny McCarthy will back you up on that.

“He has poor motor skills? Maybe you just don’t take him outside to play enough.” He’s the one I keep inside like a potted plant. The other two kids with perfectly normal motor skills are allowed to run and frolic as they please.

“I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time processing this.” Oh my gosh, how RUDE of me! I totally forgot that my child’s autism is ALL ABOUT YOU!

Folks, if you have ever been in this situation, or believe you ever will find yourself in this situation, here’s a friendly tip: Take out that mental filter that strains the thoughts going from your brain to your mouth, dust it right the hell off, and use it. Because let me explain something here: when a parent receives a diagnosis like this, there is a grieving process involved. When you find out your child has a developmental disorder, your brain does something along the lines of this: Oh thank God, we finally have a label on it. Oh my God, my kid has a label. He’s LABELED. For life. What does this mean? Did I cause this? Will he ever go to prom? Will he have friends? What if he lives at home forever? I wonder if there’s a waiting list for behavioral therapy. What IS behavioral therapy? What IS autism, for that matter? Shit, I have to go home and google stuff. I just want to get in bed and cry. Maybe I can google stuff tomorrow. No, wait, we have OT tomorrow. Crap, have to get on the waiting list for speech therapy. This totally explains that time when he did XYZ at my inlaws’ house. Shit, what do I tell the family? They’re not going to get it. Maybe they will. I hope they don’t act weird around us now. What should I make for dinner?…

That’s just the first few seconds. And then you come home after a silent car ride with your spouse, and you begin making phone calls. You tell your parents. You call the therapy place the neuropsychologist recommended. You think about calling insurance to verify coverage, and then you think, fuck it, what I really need today is some ice cream, because I’d rather eat my feelings than deal with them right now. Because you’ve just come upon the first tiny kernel of realization about WHAT THIS MEANS for you as a parent. It means that everything changes and nothing changes all at the same time. Your kid is the same as he was an hour ago, and you’re the same, but suddenly the difficulty factor of your job as a parent has been multiplied times infinity-and-one. The old Acme anvil has just been dropped, Roadrunner-style, and you’re the Coyote with the birds and stars spinning around your head.

And you go on Friendface and see your friends posting Instacrap pictures of their frappuccinos and their pedicures, and bragging about their neurotypical kids being all typical and shit, and you realize that you are now a MOM OF A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, and if that’s what life has handed you, then goddammit, you’re going to wear that scarlet A with the best of ’em. So you work up the nerve and you write a post about your kid, and you wonder if your friends will all read it and say a simultaneous “Well, that explains a lot!”

And then you make dinner, you go to bed, you cry, and you get up the next day and face the world in which everything is different and the same.

So just in case you never have to find yourself in my shoes, please heed my handy advice. Also, please read this article about the Ring Theory of Kvetching. I read this article shortly after a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, and shortly before Snowflake was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It has truly changed how I approach people in a crisis, and how I look at other people when I am at the center of a crisis. The gist of the article can be summed up by this handy diagram. Read it and memorize it.

Illustration by Wes Bausmith, L.A. Times

Ring Theory of Kvetching

To explain: A crisis can be illustrated in concentric rings, with the person experiencing the crisis in the center. Those closest to them are the next ring out, followed by the next closest people, and so on and so on. If you encounter a crisis, ask yourself: what ring am I on? Your ring placement determines which people you are allowed to bitch to. Let’s go with the “friend with cancer” analogy. The friend, being the center of the crisis, is allowed to dump all of her feelings OUT, to any level of the circle, at any time. Her family is allowed to dump OUT to all levels outside of their ring; however, they may not dump IN. The only thing that goes IN is comfort. Dump OUT, comfort IN. If you are a coworker, thinking about dumping IN? Go dump somewhere else, because what you have to offer is not helpful.

I found myself thinking about the Rings of Kvetching a lot in the week or so after Sgt. Snowflake’s diagnosis: the massive challenge of always sending comfort and positivity IN, to Snowflake, the fear of dumping too much OUT onto others, and the anger and hurt at others dumping IN on us. I wish I could send around this chart to everyone who dumped IN with a note that says, “Thanks for dumping your bullshit on us. For future reference, here’s a handy guide on what NOT to do.” But perhaps that’s too harsh. Dumper-inners are often well-meaning folk, after all. They just don’t know what to say. Neither do I, sometimes.

So I’ll leave it at that, dear readers reader. Stay tuned for part 3.

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