No Apologies

Boy with autism in field


You ask me “Does your eldest child have autism?”

“Yes.” I reply.

“I’m so sorry.”

My stomach lurches. No. Please.  Don’t say you are sorry. I know you mean well. I was once like you. But don’t apologise for the gift that is my boy – for any part of him. I know that the pain and suffering of children is the world’s greatest sorrow, but it is not autism that causes him pain.

I used to think a child with any disability must be a tragedy. I used to think that the parents of such children must long for them to be whole. But your idea of wholeness is skewed by what you are, by what you know. Birds cannot breathe underwater. Fish cannot fly in the sky. We do not spend our time lamenting the lack of ability in either. Nor do we assume that the fishes long to fly, or that birds feel incomplete, soaring through the air.

Fish flounder and writhe on the shore not because they are fish – but for the absence of water.

I know you want to express something – you are compelled to respond, to show you care. I know that it is a subject that makes those without experience awkward and uncomfortable. You fear to offend and an apology is simple, closed. It risks no further chance of misstep. I am not offended but please – let me explain.

My boy cannot run, jump and climb like other boys.  He cannot dress himself or drink from a cup. Simple tasks we take for granted require great effort.

But he can list the wonders of the solar system, in perfect order. Planets and moons and stars roll off his tongue. They must all be perfect. Io and Ganymede and Calisto and Europa. His perception of them is governed by rules that are as absolute as the rules of the universe that make them spin. His rules must be flawless, predictable – like gravity. And they are just as beautiful, in their perfection.

My boy finds it hard to communicate. He has vocabulary – but the mysteries of interaction and communication must be learned, slowly, painfully. They will never come naturally. Sometimes he cannot tell me what he needs and his frustration and despair tumble out of control.

But he loves music. He relates to the sounds of instruments more than lyrics and voices. He mimics the drums and the bass guitar and will tell me which instrument is which, his whole body tense with joy as he imitates them. Listening, singing, dancing –they are not enough. He longs to be the music.

My boy cannot cope with disorder. The pressures of unpredictability take an awful toll. When there are changes, he is lost to me, in anger, terror, or blankness. I do not know which is hardest to watch. But I know it is my privilege to hold him, to protect him, to wait – until he comes back.

He is acutely honest. He is sensitive. He is loving. When I ask him how much I love him, the answer is always “Do you love me as much as the whole world mummy?” and I must always reply, “Even more than that, gorgeous boy.”

He adores word games and strange vocabulary and the absurd. Deliberately muddling words will make him laugh until he shakes. He loves to make his baby sister giggle. I have known no purer joy than watching the delight, mirrored in their faces.

He is perfect.

So, if you must feel sorry, feel sorry for those who do not see what I see. Feel sorry that the world is set up for fish, when he is bird. Feel sorry for those that will shun him, or fail to understand him, or even mock him  – for strengths and weaknesses that seem so different to their own.

It is their loss, their tragedy. For their perception that he is less, that he needs an apology, is based standards that are not real. They are an illusion that seems real because the rest of us make it so by our actions, our attitudes.

You do not know what to say. And so you say sorry. You say, I don’t know how you do it. You say, you must be so strong.  But my child is not a burden. He is the light of my life. And he would be yours too, if he were your child. Strength flows like water, for those we love. Yours. Mine. My spirit and resilience are no greater than yours.

So if you feel an apology about to escape your lips, stay silent. Or ask, instead, what is he like? What does he love? What makes him smile? What makes him laugh until he shakes?

Because I cannot, and will not, be sorry for any inch of him.

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  1. 1
    the frenchie mummy

    You are so right not to be sorry because he is perfect as he is and he is a beautiful little lad! I think people say that because they clearly don’t understand and they are scared of the word ‘autism’. Loving this post. Off to share it now #bigpinklink #KCACOLS

  2. 3
    Sunshine girl

    I understand what you say. I used to feel the same. However 13 years down the road, I have realised autism is certainly not a gift,not in anyway at all. We tell ourselves it it,tell the world it is and for as long as possible try to believe it is.The sad truth is its at very best a hindrance. There are two paths, both leading to the same destination. One path is clear and can be skipped along.The other is boggy and the user must wade through mud often waist deep at a very slow hard pace just to keep moving. Which would you chose for your child? The child with autism is wading constantly just to be. That’s not a gift. It’s scary,it’s unfair. The fights you will encounter with education,ignorance,health and exhaustion teach you autism is anything but a gift. I work tirelessly with my son to make him the best he can be. 24/7 home educating not only because the education system is inept with regards to ASD but because I know I’m running against the clock.A clock that’s ticking too fast.Inneed to teach him how to survive in the real world when I’m gone. Quirky reciting of the solar system helps You believe the child is clever,quells the fear.its something they are better at than their peers. Your post made me very sad.

    • 4
      Someone's Mum

      I never said it was a gift. I said he was a gift. I said that it doesn’t need an apology. There will be very difficult challenges, I know. And you describe him ‘quirkily’ relating the solar system as quelling some fear in me that he is not clever but you seem to misunderstand my point. Whether he is clever or not is neither here nor there. He takes great joy in it and his joy is my joy. I can feel sad that autism will make some things difficult but wishing it away is a complex idea that I can’t really get on board with. It is part of him. I can’t wish away parts of him, however challenging they may be. Thanks for commenting.

    • 5

      I don’t understand why this post would make you feel sad. And why bother question his cleverness? Why not value that cleverness and the joy it brings even if it hasn’t yet carried over to other topics/concepts? The troubles you listed are people’s/institutions’ inadequate and poor response to autism- not a direct reflection of autism itself. The response of the world, including instituations such as school, is the issue- not the child with autism. We need a world that values difference instead of shunning it, fearing it.

    • 6
      Autistic bad ass

      There are two paths? I don’t get it….Mainly because I am autistic. I happen to like mud and life is hard with or without being autistic. How are you teaching him about the “real world”? Are you teaching him that his autism is more of a burden then a gift that should be used to better himself and society. Don’t get me wrong I am a Soldier and am going to medical school and its a challenge. but what makes me unique is that I own my autism and not my autism owning me. My 5 yr old son is also autistic and I wouldn’t change him for the world. I would however like to kick the crap out of the ignorant parents who teach their kids to be ignorant of people who are different. look at some of the most successful people in history who had autism like I don’t know Thomas Edison the guy who created the light above your head. The creator of pokemon is autistic. Who knows maybe the ladies son gets fascinated with the solar system so much that he comes up with the idea to get all humans the ability to travel the solar system. instead of complaining how about encouraging the potential in our kids.

  3. 9
    Sunshine girl

    It wouldn’t be wishing part of him would be wishing he was on the path he could skip along. The one without the mud.Don’t get me wrong I adore my child,he is an incredible individual but my word I wish it was easier for him. My reply came from my guts,it wasn’t intended to offend. There will be times over the coming years you will have days where you know exactly what I mean

    • 10
      Someone's Mum

      We have already had many difficult days. The path with the mud is hard because of society, not the autism itself. That was a main part of the piece. I am not offended. It just seems you haven’t quite got my point. I am not foolish enough to think that life is going to be easy – it’s already not easy. He was diagnosed at 2. But E brings me joy from all aspects of his personality- and some of those are a direct result of autism. So how can I truly hate it or wish it completely away? I can’t. I can wish life was easier for him. But it is society that makes life the hardest, not autism, a lot of the time.

    • 12
      Someone's Mum

      Thank you so much. I know there are challenges and I don’t mean to play them down or belittle them. I just wanted to address the idea that he is any less a person, any less a love of my life because of his autism. x

  4. 13
    Sunshine girl

    My so was diagnosed at 3 I had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead. Yes society plays a huge part in how difficult life can be,with lack of suitable educational provision,lack of staff training in all professional fields and general ignorance in society.However,autism itself is extremely debilitating,more so the older the child becomes.The gulf between them and their peers becomes glaring,the things they cant and will never do so much more obvious. We can’t live with what ifs and if onlys but I would take away my child’s autism in an instant,without hesitation

    • 14
      Someone's Mum

      I think it’s very unfair to assume I only feel this way because I am naive and I will no longer feel this way in a few years – I will. I know it in my bones. My child is not your child. My journey is not your journey. I am very sorry that the difficult times have left you feeling so negative. I am not trying to play down or shy away from the difficulties autism brings. I am simply taking joy in every facet of my child because both by children, autistic and neurotypical, are the greatest gifts I have ever received.

  5. 15
    Lucie Aiston

    Beautiful post! My son is 10 and has had a diagnosis since he was 5! I battled for 3 years to get him in the right school setting and that was really hard. Not hard because of my son or his autism but hard because of incompetent professionals and schools that have no understanding. I wouldn’t change my son for the world. He has had struggles buy I was there to guide him. In his 10 years of life he has never brought me down. He is an incredible human being with so much love in his heart. I have had the “I’m sorry” too on many occasions. Keep doing what you do and thanks for the beautiful post. Xx

  6. 17
    Joanne Mallon

    He’s wonderful and so are you. It’s tough, I think people just don’t know what to say sometimes and then they inevitably say the wrong thing. It’s nothing personal, just that general human awkwardness that we all share. #KCACOLS

    • 18
      Someone's Mum

      Thank you. I do know that people are unsure what to say. I guess that’s why I wanted to write about it – so they get a little insight into the other side. Thanks so much for commenting. 🙂

    • 20
      Someone's Mum

      Thank you. I do understand that it’s awkward. I would have been the same before! But I think just a “What is he like?” Or anything that shows interest is a good response 🙂

  7. 21
    Louise Pink Pear Bear

    What a beautiful post. You have a magical way with words. I hope that parents facing diagnosis and feeling scared and worried for the future read this because it’s a wonderful positive piece. Thanks for being a #bigpinklink

  8. 25
    Julia Daunt

    Life is hard for EVERYONE, with or without Autsim. No ones life is a perfect journey. We all face hardships, fear, illness and loneliness but we all also have great moments of happiness, love, friendship and joy. I believe life is what you make it. You can hide away in a corner and complain and wish things were different or you can say sod it and embrace it all, good and bad. I know which one I would pick (and I do). All I’m trying to say is that all life is a wonderful blessing filled with hardships – we all have that in common regardless. 💜

    • 26
      Someone's Mum

      Very well said. There’s always someone worse off and there’s always something to feel joyful about if you are looking for it. Thanks so much for commenting 😊

  9. 27
    Merlijn Bergisch

    I was the kid with autism, and now a grown-up with kids of my own, and my mom was (and is) like you. And that made all the difference. For no matter how difficult it seemed to be, how complicated life sometimes was, she stayed positive and looked at my possibilities and loved me for who I was and am. I am married now, with two kids of my own and try to pay forward all the positiveness I received. Thank you for writing your experience and joy down so wonderfully!

    • 28
      Someone's Mum

      Thank you so much for commenting and for sharing your story too. Hearing the experiences of those with autism reinforces my positive attitude too 🙂

  10. 29
    Jade The Parenting Jungle

    Everyone is different and I agree people shouldn’t say Im sorry because he is not less or something to be sorry about; he is your little man, autism is not something he or you can change, if someone said what’s your child and you said a boy its the same as saying sorry for that. A beautiful post about a mothers love for her son..x #biglinklink

  11. 31

    As you have said, most of us are compelled to say ‘I am sorry’ because our illusion is your must be suffering but you’re not. You’ve embraced the wonderfulness that’s you son. Great post

  12. 37
    Laura - dear bear and beany

    Such a beautiful post and words. It was lovely to get a little insight about your gorgeous boy. It would never occur to me to say ‘sorry’, it seems strange to me that is what people say to you. Maybe it’s because my best friend had a disabled sister when I was little, I don’t know. But, I see everyone for who they are x

  13. 43
    Davina Taylor

    I think this is so, so beautiful. The way you describe your son and how much love I can see in those words… It’s inspiring. YOU are inspiring, just as your wonderful boy is too.

  14. 45
    The Unsung Mum

    Wow amazingly well written. I don’t have any experience at all, but your post really touched me. I’m pretty sure I have been one of those “I’m sorry” people but this has really made me think. Thank you #KCACOLS

  15. 47

    Oh wow, what an absolutely beautiful piece. I love reading your blog as I get to know more about your special little guy-and what an honor it would be to know him like you do. Your love for your son is tangible in this article, his spirit truly sounds infectious. Autism is difficult, it really is, but isn’t life? You sound like such a wonderful mother <3 #KCACOLS

  16. 49

    I love this post and I know exactly where you are coming from. I’ve been there at both ends, when my eldest was diagnosed it felt like the worst thing in the world, that I’d lost my son to some awful condition that would take away the life I expected him to lead. In a way it did, but he has also astounded me with the things he’s managed to do. I think once I stopped thinking of his autism as being the thing that was holding him back and destroying his life, and just accepted that he was that way and we were going to make the best of it, things got a whole heap better. He’s and adult now, he’s still autistic but he’s done some wonderful things in his life. I am and always will be proud of him and love him for who he is, he has autism, he is not autism. He is certainly a blessing in my life (yes, even when he thinks it’s ok to ask me a question at 4am.)

  17. 50

    He sounds like a wonderful boy with a wonderful mom. As an adult Aspie myself, I feel just as you do. Don’t expect this fish to fly and we’ll all be fine. Thanks for your enlightened words. All the best to you, and your son, and your family!

  18. 51
    laura dove

    I love this post, he sounds like an absolute blessing and nobody should ever be sorry for that!! I think autism can be very misunderstood, I know that there is such a wide spectrum that often people are confused about it as knowing one autistic child doesn’t mean that you know another. #KCACOLS

  19. 52
    Suzanne Warburton

    <3 Our boys are similar. My boy loves the solar system, periodic table, countries on the world map, alphabet, flags, states and capitals of the USA ( 🙂 we live in New Zealand). For all the things he can't do there are many he can do that blows others away…. He is starting school on Monday. :-).

  20. 55

    This just made me cry….exactly what my son goes thru is stated here….just couldnt agree more….people need to mind their own bloody business….its a gift…a pure which God chise only special people to present it… just gently love it and enjoy it….nobody deserves such acceptance than ourselves…..

  21. 58
    L. Di Monaco

    Thank you so much for articulating something so difficult so well. My wife and I have spent the past two years wading through the (relatively) unknown as we attempted to get a proper diagnosis for our son. He is about as gentle and sweet as possible and is, in many ways, a treat to deal with by comparison to his sister, a “neuro-typical” young lady. They are both beautiful gifts in their own way and your statement about seeing your children’s faces mirroring each other stopped me dead in my tracks with tears in my eyes – there’s nothing more beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this. You make a difference.

  22. 59

    Wow! I am shedding tears reading this because you took the words right out of my mouth regarding how I feel about my own son! Thank you for this! As he gets ready to enter high school next month, some fears have crept up on me and reading this has helped alleviate those fears. I really enjoyed reading this:)

  23. 60

    To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never said “I’m sorry” to a parent whose child has some sort of difference from what society deems ‘normal’. It is not my place to offer condolences for something when sorrow has not been expressed. I hope that I am positive and upbeat when I meet these children and try to ask some type of question like those you suggest. I hope that others learn from your post that blessings come in many packages and that blessings are something to be joyful about, not sorry for. As long as you feel blessed, he will be happy, because he will always feel that positivity from you. Good Job, Mama!

  24. 61
    Lisa Singer

    Thank you for sharing. My husband and I go back and forth on this topic. Our son is 9 and struggles like at ASD kids do but we try to see his differences as strengths and have taught him to be proud of himself, autism and all.

    My husband is also autistic and didn’t have any support as a child and we are determined to make things better for Lyric, our wonderful Aspie.

  25. 62

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your son with us. My grandson is 5 and has Autism. When someone writes so well about how others react regarding Autism, it is an opportunity to educate others so they have a better understanding. Your comments were shared with me by my daughter and I in turn will share with others so that they have an opportunity to understand. Your son is lucky to have you as his Mommy. My grandson is lucky to have his Mommy as well. Lots of love. A grandmother who adores her grandson.

  26. 63

    I do believe each and every child comes with challenges these are mostly ours as parents to help find what makes them happy what makes them sad and what ways to help them learn and how to cope in this world . I have never met a child that was not wonderful in their own special way . I have been so blessed to have 5 children of my own and then was able to work with many children each week to teach them dance ; the funny part is if you really get to know children they have so much to teach us ! It is hard to know what to say in so many situations ; I know I have been guilty myself of this feeling ; I also lost a beautiful son and husband in a terrible plane accident .I also lost my own health to some awful diseases , and even though a lot of people don’t know what to say or do I always appreciate them caring enough to try ! Lots of love to all you parents out. There trying to do your best of raising your children to be a part of making our world a better place 🌎☀️⭐️

  27. 64

    Thank you for this beautiful post. The many times I am frustrated for my son (also with ASD) is because I am trying always to prepare him to cope in a world of fish when he is, like your son, a beautiful bird. And I am always saddened by most of the people around me and their refusal to see his beauty and what makes him shine. So many of my seemingly “open minded” and “loving” friends shy away from even asking me about my son and enjoying his world. I have two other neurotypical kids and they forever ask me about them, because it is “safe.” Anyway, I’m rambling…but I wanted to thank you and tell you I get it! Peace to you and your family!

  28. 65

    I love this! My oldest son has autism, he is 18 and going to college this fall and I have 3 other sons without autism. You are not naive. When he was younger, I felt like I had to wait to be happy until he got “better”. I would work and work and make him “better” and then I could start living and enjoying. Then I realized that he might never be “better” in the sense that I expected. I started accepting him as he was. I let myself be happy and joyful even if he never got “better”. And at that point things changed. We all got happier. It doesn’t mean we don’t work hard or do ten thousand kinds of therapy, it just means that I don’t expect him to suddenly wake up one day and not have autism. He will always have autism and he likes it about himself. We try to work with his strengths. Of course we get frustrated, he gets frustrated, he struggles way more than my other sons. He needs much more support than them, but that is OK. I think it is so important to focus on the positive and that is exactly what you are doing. He has changed me and my husband and his siblings. We are “better” because we know him. We are richer because we spend time with him. We are blessed.

  29. 67

    I loved your essay! My son’s Aspergers diagnosis is recent, but we’ve known he’s a bird in a world of fish almost since birth. Since his diagnosis, I’ve been reading a lot about neurodiversity and the strengths and weaknesses that come on the autism spectrum as well as other types of neurodiversity- ‘disorders’ that create many challenges while the unique abilities that come with them are hidden or overlooked. ADHD can cause impulsivity and a struggle to stay in one place, but can also come with boundless energy and inventiveness. Bipolar disorder can be crippling, but often comes with creativity, that when unlocked can enrich the world. I loved these quotes: “No. Please. Don’t say you are sorry…your idea of wholeness is skewed by what you are, by what you know. Birds cannot breathe underwater. Fish cannot fly in the sky. We do not spend our time lamenting the lack of ability in either. Nor do we assume that the fishes long to fly, or that birds feel incomplete, soaring through the air…So, if you must feel sorry, feel sorry for those who do not see what I see. Feel sorry that the world is set up for fish, when he is bird. Feel sorry for those that will shun him, or fail to understand him, or even mock him – for strengths and weaknesses that seem so different to their own.” Often, neurodiversity’s greatest gift is that it helps us see each other’s gifts. It helps the ‘fish’ see the beauty in flying.

  30. 69
    Nic williams

    Great blog. I have two adopted children, my son has attachment disorder which can make him ‘interesting’ to parent and teach. A big turning point for me was to stop apologising about him and start challenging the assumptions people made about his behaviour. It was very liberating and the result is he knows we’re always 100% on his side. Very best wishes Nicx

    • 71
      Someone's Mum

      You have. All comments get sent to me for approval before being visible. Depends when I get on to approve them! Thanks so much for commenting and for your kind words 🙂

  31. 72
    Madeline (This Glorious Life)

    I think that people say ‘I’m sorry’, because they’re not sure what else to say, so thank you for writing this and giving some insight into what could be said instead. I love your attitude, and the love you have for your son is so plain to see, he really is a gift. x #KCACOLS

  32. 73

    Oh! This is heartbreaking and enlightening and full of so much love and pride. Thank you for sharing and thank you for your words. Your son is perfect in a stinky imperfect world.

  33. 75
    Happy Wawa

    Thank you for this beautifully written post. I often have problems with our overuse of “I’m sorry”. It can only be truly meant when someone has caused hurt. In Spanish, people say “lo siento” which directly translates as “I feel it” which helps convey a sense of empathy and understanding.

  34. 76

    The thing I love most about children is their ability to be different without being aware of it, not affected by stereotypes or boxes that define them according to the ‘guidelines’. It’s a shame that as we grow up we become aware and try and fit in. I think we can all take something from this and remember we are different too. Your son sounds so lovely, thank you for making me more aware of this x

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