Dear Mom, Love Your Autistic Child
Updated: May 22
by Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" - Blog 5
“No one invited you here. No one wanted you here. You robbed us of our lives, and I want you to give back what you have taken.” That was a statement made by Author Cheryl A. Borrelli from her memoir titled Dear Nicky, Love Mommy: A Memoir of mother and son’s daily struggles with autism and who is also a mother of an autistic son name Nicky. In this statement, Cheryl is writing a letter to the developmental disorder autism as if it were a person, so she can confront it for all the pain, trouble, and heartache that it has caused them for years. I’m sure that many of you have had those thoughts yourselves. “Why me?”, “Why my son?”, “Why my daughter?”, “Why my children?”, “Why us?”, “Why now?”, “Why ever?” I’m sure that many of you have wished that autism was just a person you could easily confront, because that would make it easier to make it go away. However, that’s just not our reality. Autism is not a person that you can easily make disappear, autism is a social disorder that no one can make go away. That is a hard pill to swallow, not just for those who have to live with autism, but it’s even worse for those who have to live through it with them, especially if you are a parent who is a mother like Cheryl A. Borrelli. Most people don’t really take into consideration of what mothers truly go through for their children, especially their autistic children. In an article titled A Salute to Mothers of Children with Autism, a Teacher, Author, and Motivational Speaker name David Petrovic explains what being a mother truly consists of when he states, “Motherhood is not “a job”; it is a calling… a truly special vocation that resembles an iron man triathlon: you get tired, feel like you’re drowning in life’s deepest ocean, and you may feel like giving up and settling. But then you get a glimpse of the ultimate prize worth fighting for (your child); you regain your drive, and you come out on top, a medalist!! You don’t merely finish, you dominate the obstacles and recognize your own endurance.” Many children (especially those with autism as well as special needs) know what it’s like to have that mother, I know what’s it’s like to have that mother.
Growing up in the Southern area of Philadelphia, my mother has always recalled that throughout my childhood, I was always quiet and shy, but I was also what many people would call an introvert, which is defined as someone who is a shy and reticent individual. I was always well reserved who kept to myself most of the time, and my mother never saw my behaviors as alarming as some people would because she originally thought that it was just shyness that I was experiencing. Another reason is because during the time of my isolation, my mother didn’t know that what I was experiencing as a child were actual symptoms of me being low-key autistic. Because of this, I spent the next 22 years never knowing that I was a low-key (high functioning) autistic individual and that I was on the lower end of the autism spectrum. Throughout many years of her life, my mother never knew that she herself was low-key autistic either. Back in the day, my mother grew up in a world where autism was not a prevalent subject to be talked about and therefore no one was really being educated at the time about what autism was and its symptoms. In an article titled How autism became autism: The radical transformation of a central concept of child development in Britain, Bonnie Evans who is a Wellcome Trust postdoctoral researcher at King’s College, London, Centre for Humanities and Health explains the timeline of autism and how it was described differently by many psychologists over the years. According to the article, it dates back to 1911, when autism was first coined by German Psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler who once described autism as being, “…a symptom of the most severe cases of schizophrenia…” which was something that he also created at the time. From Bleuler’s perspective, “…autistic thinking was characterized by infantile wishes to avoid unsatisfying realities and replace them with fantasies and hallucinations.” That changed in the 1970s when autism became referred to as, “…a complete lack of an unconscious symbolic life.” Bonnie gives an example of this when she explains how Michael Rutter, who was a Leading Child-Psychiatric Researcher from the UK’s Maudsley Hospital conducted the first-ever genetic study of autism, and came to the conclusion in 1972 that, “the autistic child has a deficiency of fantasy rather than an excess”. Finally, in 1985, Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan Leslie and Uta Frith who are members of the MRC Cognitive Development Unit, London in the UK made an argument about autistic children lacking a ‘theory of mind’ and therefore built on the post-1960s conception of autism, in which they described it as being ‘a profound disorder in understanding and coping with the social environment’. This led on to the main symptom being an, ‘impairment in verbal and non-verbal communication’. So, as you can see, the study of autism has come a long way to being described the way it is now so people can get an understanding of what autism is. As time went on, my mother started making more efforts to overcome her shyness and act more social with her peers. I did so myself when I was beginning to wrap up my final year of middle school, and it didn’t always work out well. When I was in the eighth grade, I had these two friends who always talked to each other during gym class, while I mainly sat alone by myself. I wanted to try and change that by sitting close to them so that maybe I could join the conversation. They would walk away from me, but I would try to catch up with them because I didn’t want to feel left out and lonely. I was really trying hard to communicate with them, but my mind always felt blank, and I just couldn’t find the words to say to them. They eventually told me themselves that it was annoying for me to have followed them around and they politely told me to stop it, in which I did. Thankfully, my attempts at socialization got better in high school, in which I participated in after school activities that have enabled me to come out of my shell, and that has transitioned with me to college to this day. You know, this experience of me being a blogger and autism advocate for Verge of Independence Project has in many ways brought me and my mother closer together. My mother always tells me that through this experience she has not only learned new things about me, but she has even learned new things about herself. It’s been through this blog, that my mother was able to discover that she also has symptoms of being low-key autistic. As I continue my journey with Verge of Independence Project and learn new things through research about autism spectrum disorders, my mother continues to read the blogs and learns new things about the disorder herself.
In conclusion, some of you may have grown closer to your mothers during your lifetime experience with autism. Some of you may have mothers that have a newfound understanding of who you are as an autistic individual after doing some heavy researching on the condition of autism. I hope that all of you get to have both things and more after reading this blog, especially when you take into consideration what this specific blog post is for on this occasion. This blog post, is for all the mothers who have stood by their children with special needs for better or worse, this blog post is for my mother who has supported me in many of my dreams and goals, who has helped me work on my craft as a writer which has influenced my past and current successes such as my publication in the Philadelphia Inquirer from my internship at the Walnut Street Theater called Seeing the Stage Through Our Eyes, my broadcasted radio news report from the KYW Newsradio internship called Newstudies, the student newspaper at Community College of Philadelphia called The Student Vanguard, and this online internship called Verge of Independence Project. This blog post is for all our mothers who have always encouraged us to be anything we wanted to be despite our social disorders as autistic individuals. So, to all the mothers reading this blog that have children with autism or any form of special needs, I would like to say on behalf of the autistic community, thank you for all that you do for us. I would also like to say to my mother who’s reading this now, thank you for all that you do for me. Finally, I would like to say to all mothers worldwide, Happy Mother’s Day!
Pictured: Mother-Son Verge of Independence Project Cofounders & Autism Advocacy Ambassadors Branford Smith and Eva Blackwell/ photo by B. T. Smith