Autism Unexpected: Learning to Trust in Myself

WHEATON, Maryland—I have faced so many crossroads when it comes to my autistic son, Jack. At each of these crossroads, I have let others’ opinions cast doubt on how I felt and what I thought he needed. I have finally realized and learned to act on the assumption that Iknow what is best for Jack.

When Jack was two and I first talked to pediatrician about his development, the doctor asked me, “Do you have a feeling about him?”

I will always respect that doctor for asking that question and for acknowledging mother’s instinct. But not everyone does.

When I thought Jack needed early intervention, the county early intervention team said he didn’t. When they told me that he was probably slow to speak because he was a second child and a boy, I trusted them.

When, at three, I suspected he was autistic, I had teachers, therapists, and more county professionals tell me I was wrong. I trusted them less, and I found a doctor who was willing to really look at my child. Turns out I was right. Jack is autistic. And you’d be hard pressed to find a professional who works with him these days who would say different.

When I was meeting with Jack’s team to determine his services for kindergarten, his preschool special education team told me he didn’t need much support. By this time, I’d learned to not blindly trust the experts. I pushed for substantial services. We got far more than they originally planned on offering, but we didn’t get enough because I didn’t entirely trust myself and push as hard as I needed to.

When Jack was in kindergarten, he struggled every single day. I thought he needed a one-to-one aide. Although everyone who worked daily with Jack agreed with me, the people with the power turned us down. My husband and I ended up hiring an attorney and an educational consultant to fight for what we thought he needed. Along the way, I had moments of doubt.

I worried that maybe the naysayers in the meeting were right. Maybe Jack didn’t need a designated aide. Maybe we were throwing money away. Knowing by this point that I should trust in myself, I sought validation from his teachers and aides, and they gave it to me. With their help, I trusted in myself, and we ended up with most, but not all, of what he needed. And I don’t think anyone at the school would suggest that he doesn’t need that extra help.

Even after all of this I occasionally find myself mired in doubt. When Jack was having trouble with homework this year, spending two and three hours every night fighting against it, I asked the school for a compromise. At first they didn’t give it to me. But I remembered the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years and I decided to trust myself. So I pushed a little harder. And they compromised. And it’s made a world of difference.

It is so easy to be swayed by professionals and so-called experts. We’re just mothers and fathers, what do we know?

Well, we know our children. It is so important to remember that I am the expert when it comes to my son. I am the one with his pure interests at heart. I am the one who puts him to bed and wakes him up.

He trusts in me. And I need to trust in myself as well.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on January 27, 2010.