By Guest Blogger Jessie Tucker Mitchell
When our 17 month old son was prediagnosed with autism, my husband Robert and I were shocked. We had completely missed the signs – or rather, we had assumed they were caused by something else. Fletcher didn’t look when I pointed to a distant object? He was simply too focused on smiling at me! He didn’t started crawling within the acceptable time frame? He was really, really chunky for his age. He didn’t pull himself to standing? Well, like I said, he was quite heavy. And he hadn’t spoken his first word; could that also be because he was fat? …
Even while we were still reeling from shock, we started doing what we were “supposed” to do, starting with securing every type of therapy imaginable: speech, occupational, physical, even play therapy, because apparently, part of autism is not knowing what, exactly, you’re supposed to do with toys. Give Fletcher a half-dozen Matchbox cars and you could practically see him thinking, Why, exactly, am I supposed to roll these across the floor? Robert and I placed Fletcher’s name on the wait list for a private school for children on the spectrum. We had ear tubes inserted, just in case his problems were a result of not being able to hear adequately. We stayed up late into the night researching what other families in our situation were doing. And, we took him to a medical expert who specialized in trying to “recover” children with autism.
For the next two years, desperate to save Fletcher, we would do everything this doctor told us to do. We sent off samples of his blood, urine, stool, and hair for analyses (I still remember weeping as I snipped silky blond curls from his hair while he slept; it was his very first haircut). We removed gluten, dairy, soy, and countless other foods from his diet. We gave him Methyl-b12 injections every three days to boost his energy and thus increase muscle tone. We tried to treat a myriad of symptoms by giving him cod liver oil, colostrum, L-Glutathione, liquid magnesium, monolaurin, creon, molybdenum, zinc, chromium, iodine, yucca…. The list goes on and on. We spent such a staggering amount on supplements that I stayed home all day, every day, in our remote country house, trying to save money on gas by not going anywhere yet feeling overwhelmingly lonely and alone. And yet nothing worked. Nothing changed. Why didn’t anything change?
One day, two years after Fletcher’s diagnosis, I ran out of three of his supplements. I had reordered them already, but the company sent the package to the wrong address, and by the time my order reached me, almost a month had passed. I realized as I opened the battered brown box that Fletcher acted no differently than when I had been giving him the supplements religiously. And honestly, with so many bills piling up, particularly from that autism specialist, I knew that we would save so much money if we cut back on some of the supplements, especially since a few reputable resources had said some were unnecessary for daily use. So we did. A couple of months passed. Fletcher’s therapists saw only the same slow and steady improvement – no sudden regression as I had feared. I kept gluten from his diet but reintroduced dairy, and was thrilled when he immediately loved yogurt. Then I gave him medicine that was not dye-free. I stopped frantically reordering even more of his supplements. Nothing bad happened; no catastrophe occurred. And during this time, I focused less on keeping the medicine cabinet stocked and more on just being with my son.
Not long after that, I met a mom whose son had just been diagnosed with autism. She started naming all of the special diets and supplements they were trying, then asked if I was following a similar strict regimen. I wasn’t, I told her, and all of a sudden I realized something: I was not trying to change my son anymore. I genuinely loved exactly who he was, with all his quirky behaviors and mispronounced words and obsessions with trains and alphabet blocks. I didn’t want him to change. And with this realization came another: I was truly happy, for the first time in years. I loved my life and the kids God chose to give me. And while I applaud this mom – and all parents – who explore every possible route to recover their child from autism or any disability, I praise God that I now am in a place where I no longer need to do this, because I love my son. I love him. I am at peace.
Jessie Tucker Mitchell lives in Winston-Salem with her husband and four children, who range in age from 11 to 10 months.