Today I had an inevitable conversation with my youngest teenage son. The day was always going to come and many hours of days past had been spent thinking how the conversation would unfold. Turns out it was nothing like I had analysed, although it did involve the predicted tears.
My 15 year old son asked me “How did I get Autism?”, and “Why am I autistic?”. In that moment my heart ached with sadness, familiar from my journey with the answer to his long awaited question.
In response I deviated from my normal way of answering questions from his highly inquisitive self. Instead of a direct honest answer, I asked a question back. “Are you ready, do you really want to know?” A resounding “yes” his response.
In my previous role playing of this conversation I only had one response. A honest response based on the science. This is where I began.
I explained to my son that Autism and ADHD, which he has both, are neurological conditions, not behavioural like most think. I told him how neural pathways form when a baby is growing in the womb and those pathways are in the brain and when we are born they help us in how we think, behave, grow and see the world. Then I talked about how external situations and people can impact the development of those neural pathways, even before we are born. Specifically I talked about the impact of stress on the baby’s mother. In this case me.
He was still with me, listening intently, which is unusual for him unless he is interested in the topic at hand. His eyes hadn’t glazed over and he hadn’t interrupted or changed topic so I knew he was still with me. We were also in the car which is where our best, most honest open conversations occur. So I continued.
I asked a reflective question “So, you know your Dad was abusive?” Confirmation again, so I gently talked of this as being very stressful and related it back to what I had explained about stress impacting healthy neural pathway formation. I told him of his early arrival from my being punched in the stomach a week before he was due. Silent confirmation with a nod of his head. He knew a little of these difficult truths, but I’d never related it back to his diagnosis.
I noticed his stillness, his reflective contemplation but he was still waiting for more. I reminded him about the amazing Professor we would visit in Melbourne and I knew he would recall. He diagnosed Thomas and put in writing the cause of his Autism, the “maternal stress the while in utero”, and he also helped us with safety beyond his Doctor/Patient responsibilities. He experienced first hand the abuse of my son’s father, and knew how complex my son’s needs were. My son remembered him, despite his young age.
Our conversation then diverted to another perspective, one I hadn’t rehearsed in my analysis years ago. I told him how grateful I was to the science for his diagnosis because it helped me to understand how to help him, understand him, and understand how he saw the world. But there was more to it than just the science, and I talked to him from the perspective of our soul.
I explained how every human is unique, no two ever the same and how each soul has a path to walk, experiences to have, things to learn, and things to teach others. As I’ve done many times before, I told him he was my greatest teacher. That because of his Autism and the challenges he has faced he has taught me a lot about not only Autism, but the world he lives in and the world he struggles to be in at times. “Even when you’ve challenged me to the core of my being I have gained wisdom from you”, I told him.
He was still listening.
Eyes still alert.
Focus still held.
So I continued and shared with him that when people choose to only focus on the science (his diagnosis) or the cause (domestic violence and stress) they can get angry at the world, frustrated with being different, resentful at the people involved and get caught up in the negativity. I shared with him I had felt all of that, but that it was also why I left his father and took his brother and him with me. I talked of my sadness at having to do that but how 13 years later I had no regrets because I could see the result of those hard years.Because of my sons and who they had become.
I thanked my son for the gift he is and all he has taught me and I credited him for being the one to make me see the gift and beauty of his soul. I acknowledged he often did it in hard, confronting and unkind ways, but it was always with brutal honesty and authenticity. That I understand he is still learning a gentler way, but I see his autism as a gift. That he is a gift.
He looked at me with tears in his eyes. He was quiet, but his eyes spoke so much. I cried too but I told him that he was so loved and his Autism is not a burden and he should never look at it that way, or get caught in the “cause” of it, because this was his soul’s journey and he had much to offer the world. He needed to keep being him and not caring what others thought, and help others to see the world through his eyes. He had an amazing gift to share.
He asked some more questions about family, about whether I thought he would be a good Dad, if parents did things differently to what their parents did because of the things that hurt them as a kid. Deep, considered questions which showed me his mind absorbing and turning over all we had discussed.
I had always envisioned that conversation as being a very difficult and confronting one. I had dreaded the day it would come, but knew it was inevitable. I knew I would be honest, but I still dreaded it. From a young age I have had to be more honest with my kids than I may otherwise have been had our situation been different. Our safety and their trust in me required a deeper honesty than their ages otherwise asked.
What I didn’t foresee all those years ago was that I would be able to be honest (science) and then talk to him from a soul perspective.
Talking about his soul choosing to walk this human experience different to many other souls is not only something I believe, but empowered my son in his uniqueness. In his strengths and wisdom, his “superpowers” rather than his limitations outlined by the science. It put the focus on him seeing himself, rather than spinning into anger, blame, frustration, hurt and hatred for the ‘cause’ of his Autism.
I did that for many years and it almost cost his and my precious lives. In reality there was nothing to lose and everything to gain from my son and his diagnosis. It was the catalyst for my life long journey home to my soul.
My son’s diagnosis 11 years ago put me on my path and opened up the world of soul, spirituality, healing and living from my heart.
Now we have had the inevitable discussion we can explore deeper, together, how his soul’s choice impacts others and what a gift he is. The science and its sometimes gloomy outlook isn’t our focus because my son’s soul has its path to walk and it is a deeper journey where he is in control of the outcomes, not the limitations of science.