My son Grant was officially diagnosed with autism when he was 14 years old. To be perfectly honest, neither my husband nor I were shocked by this. But what completely surprised us was our son’s reaction to the news: total and complete denial.
Immediately after the therapist told Grant he had been diagnosed with autism, he shook his head and adamantly told her she was wrong. After explaining why and how she came to her conclusion, Grant became angry, started crying, and gave excuses as to why he “failed” the diagnostic testing. Surely if he took all those tests again, he reasoned, the results would be different. He would most certainly NOT have autism.
Unfortunately, after storming out of the therapist’s office that day, my son’s reaction about his diagnosis has not changed much. For the first few months after that appointment, Grant would scream or cry every time we said the word “autism.” Even today — two years later — if we bring up anything related to his diagnosis, he will simply pop in his headphones and angrily tell us he’s “not interested.”
As parents, we don’t feel it is important that he announce to the world that he has autism. After all, we are firm believers that autism brings with it amazing gifts and talents. My son views things in a different light than we do. He is an out-of-the-box thinker and is passionate about pursuing his hobbies. Autism doesn’t define a person; it is merely a part of who he or she is. But it can be hard to progress and grow if we are unwilling to look at our whole selves and learn to manage certain aspects of our lives.
To deny that autism is a part of him means that he is unwilling to address aspects of his life that he may need help managing, such as his rigidity, social skills, or sensory overload. It also robs him of the opportunity to have others offer support and encouragement, when needed. For example, when surrounded by peers, Grant’s social skills often fly out the window. Sometimes, he tells odd jokes, is excessively negative, or blurts out inappropriate comments. This has resulted in him being shunned by his peers and me receiving one too many phone calls from teachers, principals, and county school officials about his behavior.
Since Grant is in denial of his autism, he is unwilling to discuss any related characteristics that he has. We cannot teach him how to determine the appropriateness of his comments or talk about any social skills because he cannot, or will not, acknowledge there is anything to discuss.
In school, Grant has difficulties with group projects. He strives to have complete control over what everyone in the group is doing and often misreads social cues.
Even though our son has a 504 plan allowing special accommodations in his classroom, it is challenging convincing teachers and others that he needs extra patience and support. Most teachers at the high school level are unwilling to allow too many accommodations when Grant looks and seems so able in other aspects of his life. And who can blame them? In Grant’s existing 504, there is no mention of autism: he merely has attention issues and struggles socially. Grant is adamant about not letting anyone — including school staff — know about his diagnosis.
Frankly, I would love to meet with teachers to tell them that Grant is incredibly smart and funny, that he loves animals and wants to work with them one day — and oh yeah, by the way, he also has autism. For the time being, we are respecting his right to keep this very private. But our hope is that over time, he will come to terms with his diagnosis and be willing to talk about it. Our hope is that one day, his teachers and peers will view Grant as a passionate, bright, and precocious student who happens to have autism.
About the Author
Hello, my name is Melissa and I am the mother of 4 rowdy but lovable children — one of whom has autism. Grant is now 16 and continues to teach us that there is more than one right way to do things in life. Even though parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum can be a roller coaster at times, we are grateful for the life lessons we’ve learned and know that Grant’s future is bright. I have a Journalism background and love writing about our family’s experiences. I have changed both my name and my son’s name to protect his privacy.