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One Mom Ponders her “What Ifs” when it Comes to her Autistic Son

Today’s post comes from filmmaker Lisanne Sartor who shares her parenting what-ifs:

As a parent, it’s easy to drive yourself nuts wondering if you’ve irreparably harmed your kids with the mistakes you’ve made.

“What if I hadn’t yelled at him for dumping milk on the floor? Have I scarred him for life?”

“What if I hadn’t said no to drum lessons? Am preventing her from being a rock star?”

And oh so many other “what ifs,” innumerable ones that range from the absurd to the realistic and everything in between. It’s hard to stop “what ifs” or beat them into submission.

My “what ifs” for my son who has autism were delayed because diagnosing him was an all-consuming process that left no room for “what ifs.”

The first one came post diagnosis via a close friend who advised me that my husband and I shouldn’t torture ourselves wondering, “What if our genes caused our son’s autism?”

Her words startled me. If genetics caused our son’s autism, then my husband and I couldn’t have prevented his autism unless we hadn’t had him. That wasn’t an option. Life without our sons is unimaginable.

Okay, I can imagine it – the quiet, the solitude, the lack of fighting – and the boredom. Much as I bitch about my boys (my husband included), I wouldn’t trade them, though I could easily be persuaded to live alone a few days a week. They keep life exciting, interesting, frustrating, exhausting and exhilarating.

So that first “what if” didn’t bother me.

But as my family’s life settled post diagnosis, “what ifs” I didn’t expect crept into my consciousness.

What if during my pregnancy with our son who has autism, I had induced labor a week early, the way the doctor wanted me to?

Instead, our beautiful boy grew so big during that last week of pregnancy that after two days of labor and two and a half hours of pushing, he got stuck and was delivered via emergency C-section.

What if during that long birth process, he was deprived of just enough oxygen to cause his autism?

Mind you, our family has a strong genetic link to Asperger’s and autism. Our son is not an isolated case in a family of otherwise completely typical people.

But what if my son’s birth experience was the tipping point that pushed him over the autism edge?

That “what if” nags at me in a way that past events you can’t change do.

What if I’d followed my gut when my son was six weeks old and he burst into gasping sobs when my mom laughed loudly as she sat next to him? In that moment, I thought, “Uh oh. We have a problem.”

A problem that even then felt like autism to me. Not that I knew much about autism back then. His reaction simply wasn’t typical. When my son was six weeks old, there was no way to diagnose autism in a child that young.

But what if?

What if I’d followed my gut as my son grew older and I noticed his ever-increasing sensitivity to noise, his unusual lack of boundaries with strangers, and his lagging language/social skills?

Granted, he was in speech therapy by the time he was four and I repeatedly asked everyone and anyone if he could be autistic. But what if I’d ignored his pediatrician, speech therapist and every other professional who worked with him, all of who kept telling me, “Your son isn’t autistic. He’s too connected to other people.”

And he was.

He has always loved other people, empathized with them and wanted to be close to them. But what if I’d taken him to a developmental pediatrician from the moment my red flags began waving instead of waiting until he was six and in crisis mode?

As I wrestle with these “what ifs” and so many others about both of my children, I’ve come to realize that these “what ifs” are based in the past and should stay there.

These “what ifs” won’t help my son who has autism achieve his hopes and dreams.They also won’t change the fact that both my boys are creative, unique individuals I’m honored to call my sons.

The “what ifs” I’d rather focus on now are “what ifs” about my boys’ futures.

What if they want to go to college out of state? Will I be able to let them go without constantly worrying they’ll be hurt emotionally or physically?

Probably not.

But I can help them grow into men who are strong enough to handle all that life throws them with grace, dignity and perseverance.

What if they marry women or men I don’t like? Will I be the mother-in-law from hell? I already know the answer to that one, so potential unlikeable spouses, you’ve been warned.

But I can teach my sons to choose partners who treat others with respect and kindness.

What if my boys stumble, fall and don’t want to get up? Will I be strong enough to help them stand and move on?

I know the answer to that “what if” too.

There have been so many moments in the past thirteen years where I thought I wasn’t strong enough to bear what has come our way. And yet I’ve recognized that the alternative – to give up and collapse – is not an option because giving up doesn’t solve the problems at hand, just like “what ifs” don’t.

Life happens. It’s not always pretty. It’s not always easy. But it does always move forward.

And so do I.

From Shannon: Fellow moms of autistic sons and daughters, it would be so great if you could leave supportive comments sharing your experience, strength and hope with our guest columnist.

This is not a sponsored post, but if you’d like to know more about Lisanne’s film Prick and play a small part it getting it made, watch the video below. xo S



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  1. Yvonne
    Yvonne 28 December, 2014, 00:05

    Thank you, Lisanne, for writing about your son and your what-ifs. I’m in that boat right beside you. It’s so hard to be in the here & now when we wish so deeply we’d known more and sooner! It’s encouraging to me to hear from you that I am not alone in that sadness or regret. I appreciate you and your willingness to share so honestly.

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