There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although I did not lose my son to a physical death, (thank God) I still had to grieve the son I thought I was supposed to have.
6lbs 1oz; no abnormalities at birth. 1-6 months, perfect baby. 7-12 months I felt like my baby was growing so fast! Walking, first few words, met all of his 12 month markers. at 13 months, something was a little different. He’s not really answering to his name anymore when I call him…. it’s a fluke I thought…14 months picker eater, now allergic to everything! 15 months, still not answering when I call his name; lost all the words he developed over a few months. He has virtually no eye contact, he’s extremely sensitive to noise, and he no longer communicates. Something was clearly wrong.
Although it was hard for me to accept the inevitable, I took my son to be tested at an Early Intervention Center in my home town. None of the therapist could agree on a diagnosis. Some told me he might have autism, others did not think so. They wanted me to take my son to a developmental therapist to get a definitive answer, but I refused. Instead I did all the necessary therapy that was given to me to help my son. After all this could be a fluke I thought. If I do all of the therapy and treatment this “thing”, whatever this “thing” is would go away. After 8 years of therapy and alternative treatment, hundreds and thousands of dollars spent, my son still has autism.
1st Stage: Denial. I refused to get my son diagnosed for 3 years. Although I knew something was “wrong” with my son I did not want it to be autism. The only thing I knew about autistic children was that they rocked back-n-forth, they flapped, they were highly aggressive and unaffectionate. Since my son was neither of those things I honestly didn’t think he had autism. I did not know anything about the “spectrum”. I didn’t realize a child with autism does not have to look like the next.
2nd Stage: Depression. When my son was 2 years old I became depressed. Although my son seems to be improving slowly with the help of therapy, he still did not behave like my friend’s children that were “typical”. He was different, and it scared me. Was this going to be his life? I dreamed that he was going to go to college, have a family and a great job…Why me? I began to become jealous of my friends and their children so I stayed away from them, and remained in a depression for about 3-4 months.
3rd Stage: Bargaining. I began to bargain with God. “Please take this cup away”. “I will do anything you want me to do”. “I will serve you faithfully for the rest of my life if you would heal my son from this thing he has” (still not wanting to believe my son has autism)
4th stage: Anger. I was angry with God. “How could this happen to me and my family”? I was a faithful Christian! “I served you God since I was 18 years old, how could you do this to me”? A couple of women I knew personally took drugs throughout their pregnancies yet gave birth to healthy babies. I was angry.” They popped pills and drank wine throughout their pregnancies and I barely ate chocolate and tuna which was instructed by my doctor. I cannot even began to convey the anger I felt with God. Undeserved anger, but still anger.
5th Stage: Acceptance. When my son was about 2 in a half, God changed my heart. I began to look at the little changes in my son, and became grateful. I saw other children that had severe autism and was not progressing at the level my son progressed, then I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I wasted almost 3 years feeling sad and angry instead of appreciating the gift that God has given me, my beautiful smart boy. I personally didn’t know any 2-year-old that could spell the word xylophone. I didn’t know any 2-year-old that loved life, and me unconditionally. My son inspired me to start a support group for other parents that were going through the same things i went through. Although I spent those 3 years going back and forth between those 5 stages, I had enough strength to help other parents who was stuck in one or more of those stages I’ve mentioned earlier. When my son turned 3 I said out loud to myself for the first time. “My name is Donique and my son has autism”. 2 weeks later I said it out loud to my friends. What a relief I felt! 2 weeks after that I had enough courage to get my son officially diagnosed. No big deal. Why didn’t I get this done sooner?! I truly believe I had to wait to I accepted my son’s autism and was OK with it before a doctor gave him a diagnosis. The funny thing is the developmental pediatrician nor any doctor to this day has ever told me my son has autism. The diagnosis went something like this: “well, what do you think”? I said, “My son is on the autism spectrum”. Doctors said, “OK”. “Now let’s get him some more help”. It was official my son has autism, and it is absolutely OK! I feel extremely honored that God has entrusted me to take care of his special child, not everyone gets this privilege. There are days that I waver in and out of those 5 stages; it’s normal and it’s real. Although this isn’t the journey I would have chosen, I’m grateful this journey has chosen me. It’s taught me compassion, what unconditional love should look like, trust, and surrender.
If you are going through any of these stages it’s ok. It’s necessary, and part of healing. For more information about the different stages of grief see links below: