In the beginning of my son’s autism diagnosis, I felt the need to apologize all of the time. I apologized for my son’s behaviors and the way they impacted other people. I apologized for the noisiness of our life. The chaos that follows us everywhere we go. I apologized for the abrupt way we exited events and social gatherings. I apologized for the adult conversations that I could not focus on. For the time I no longer had for the important relationships in my life.
I apologized for being so consumed by autism.
I apologized for a lot of things. Things that I could see and feel happening all around me. Things that I wanted so desperately to wrap my arms around and control. But the truth is that most of the things I apologized for were things not within my control.
I thought that I needed to apologize. I thought apologizing was a way of acknowledging my awareness of the way our life was different from other people. I thought that being different, and having a child who was different, was something that I needed to be sorry for.
I was wrong.
Learning to embrace the difference in your life is a process. It does not happen overnight. And the process is different for everyone. I got it wrong for a long time before I started to figure it out. Getting it wrong was part of my process. And it took getting it wrong for me to understand how to get it right.
I went on apologizing for a long time. Often not even realizing what I was apologizing for. It became an instinctual response whenever noise or chaos entered my life.
One day at a party with other families, I heard a child start to cry from the other room. I ran into the room certain that my son had pushed or hit the child. As I made my way toward the room, I began planning my exit strategy. First, I would apologize to the parent. Then I would gather our items and quickly load everyone into the car. Then, in the safety of my car, I would turn the music up so that my children could not hear me as I cried in the front seat.
When I heard the child at the party screaming, the exit strategy came to me quickly. After all, this was not our first encounter bolting from a party. We felt so ashamed. So we apologized. And then we ran away.
Imagine my surprise as I entered the room with the screaming child and my son was nowhere to be seen. I started moving quickly through the house trying to locate him. As I turned the corner into a room at the front of the house, I saw him sitting quietly on the couch with his milk.
The guilt washed over me fast and furious. Guilt for the assumption that my child was at the center of all of the noise. Guilt for my immediate reaction to pack up and leave. Guilt for my need to apologize for the things that I could not control. Guilt for getting it so wrong.
I let the guilt run through me. I needed the guilt to help guide me to a better way. A better strategy for managing. A better way to acknowledge and embrace and navigate the difference in my life.
My guilt helped me recognize that I needed to stop apologizing. And, I needed to stop running away. I needed to be aware of the behaviors without feeling ashamed of them. Of what they meant about me as a mother. And what they meant about my beautiful boy.
I needed to stop, breathe, and fight the urge to run away.
I do not apologize for my son’s behaviors anymore. The behaviors still happen; that part has not changed. But one day at a time we are changing the way we let those behaviors intersect with our life at home and our life out in the world.
Sometimes my son hits and pushes. Sometimes he yells loudly. Sometimes he slams doors and throws things. Sometimes he breaks things. Sometimes he is disruptive and intrusive to an activity or event. Sometimes he takes attention away from other things.
These behaviors are a part of our life every single day. But we no longer call attention to them by apologizing and running away.
We are calmer and less reactive. We redirect. We take deep breaths. We stop and take a minute to collect ourselves. And when we are ready; we start again.
I used to apologize and run away because I thought it protected us. I thought it kept us safe from what other people may think about my son’s autism. I thought it was the only way I could control something that felt out of control.
But, I realize now that apologizing and running away sent a message to my son that his autism was something to be ashamed of. That is was something I was ashamed of. Something I wanted to hide away. Something that we could not let other people see.
I was wrong. I am not ashamed of my son. I do not want to hide him away. So, I stopped apologizing. I stopped running. I learned how to acknowledge the difference in our life without feeling ashamed.
Sometimes we get it wrong. And then we get it right. It is a journey that does not end. A love that knows no bounds. Something you never have to apologize for.