Autism: My Child’s Reward For My Specialness


A story that’s trying hard to be a feel-good tale is doing the rounds on Facebook. A family that includes a special needs child was eating out at a restaurant, and the special needs child started to get a little boisterous. Mom was feeling self-conscious, knowing that her son’s behaviour might be bothering other diners, but then a waitress approached the table and said that a kind stranger was footing the bill for their meal.

So far, so good, right? As the parent of a child with autism, I am touched that someone would extend such kindness to a special needs family. But the story doesn’t end there. The waitress also handed the family a note from the stranger. The note said, “God only gives special children to special people.”

While many people are going on about how sweet and kind all of this is, I am blown away by the presumptuousness within the message. Yes, paying for the family’s meal was incredibly nice, and I have no problem with the gesture. It’s the note that I take issue with, and not only because of the implied assumption that everyone believes in God.

My son was diagnosed with autism at a time when a lot was wrong in my life. My relationship with my husband had hit a rocky patch, our finances were in complete meltdown, I was going through postpartum depression, I was struggling with the loss of my father… There was a lot going on.

During this terrible time, while I was trying to adjust to the reality of autism, someone told me that God never gives us more than we can handle. If that is true, how do you explain the fact that there are people who reach the point of being unable to cope, who feel so desperate that they decide to take their own lives? How do you account for the mothers who feel so overwhelmed and lost that they either abandon their children or surrender them to social services? What about the people who lose their homes, families and jobs because they feel that they can drown their problems in drugs or alcohol?

God only gives special children to special people?

The implication here is that autism and other disabilities are some kind of reward. What kind of God would do that?

“This person is so great and so awesome and so special that I am going to give their child a disability that slows down their speech, slows down their learning, reduces their chances of independence, and makes them scream in frustration when they cannot express themselves.”

Call me crazy, but that’s one messed-up reward system.

Here’s the reality: there’s nothing special about me. Yes, I’m a good mom. I provide my kids with the necessities of life, I shower them with love, I advocate for them, I try to instil them with confidence…

But I also get overwhelmed. I have days when I yell at them too much. Sometimes I let them watch as much TV as they want because I’m too tired and fraught to entertain them myself. Occasionally I’ll buy them junk food because I don’t want to cook. There are times when I get impatient with my son’s autistic behaviour even though it’s not his fault.

In other words, I am just like 99.99999% of other moms: I do the best I can with what I’ve got, and I accept that I will have my good parenting days and my bad parenting days. I’m not any better – or more “special” – than anyone else.

I didn’t get my child with autism as a result of God deciding that I was special. I got my child with autism through an accident of genetics.

I love my son more than life itself. Whenever I see the look absolute desperation in his eyes when he’s having a meltdown, my heart breaks for him. I ache inside when I think of the fact that he doesn’t have friends because he doesn’t know how to, and I constantly worry about whether he will be OK in the future.

I don’t believe in God, but if I did, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t make a child go through life with a disability just because the child’s parents were “special”.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle.


  1. No words, only love. <3

  2. Yes, I agree completely.

  3. Jeanie Taylor says:

    I do believe in God but that wasn’t a good remark to give to anyone and you are right. Once in Sunday School someone was talking about how they were hurting regarding a situation and a lady made the comment that they weren’t plugged in to the full power of Jesus Christ. Can you imagine how she felt? And this was done in church! People need to be more sensitive to others. More compassion needs to be shown. Rick Warren’s book “Purpose Driven Life” can be summed up in 5 words. (It’s not all about you).

  4. These are usually the same people who tell BLM’s ( Baby Loss Mom’s) ” God needed another angel”…weather you believe in God or not you still just want to tell them to F-Off! Yeah…I appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture but what fell *out of your mouth* ( so to speak) just made you look like an A**!

    • I honestly believe that most people mean well. No-one is trying to be mean. But some people need to try harder not to make assumptions.

  5. YES! Great post!

  6. It sounds like you truly need to get to know God-then maybe you would understand where the comment the person wrote on the paper was coming from. Only good. Sounds like you need something to believe in because you wrote something so bitter to someone who was only trying to be so kind.

    • Thank you for chiming in, Tammy. I truly do believe that the intentions were good. But as a special needs parent, I hear this kind of thing all the time. I’m not bitter, I’m just a little tired and jaded, and I’m completely comfortable with my beliefs. I appreciate that there are exceptions to this – like the recipient of the note – but a great many special needs parents do NOT feel better when someone tells them that their child has to live with a lifetime of challenges because they, the parents, are special. But again, I want to emphasize that although the note was presumptuous, I do not believe that the person who wrote it had any intention of being hurtful.

  7. I just want to add here that my husband does not agree with what I have written. He believes that the person who wrote the note was just trying to find a way to express a nice sentiment. He worries that what I’ve written might discourage people from being kind to individuals with special needs, so just in case, I want to make it clear that all acts of kindness are greatly appreciated. All I ask is that people give a little thought to what they are saying. Many special needs parents are particularly touchy where religion and God are concerned. Not all of us believe in God, and of those who do, many question why God would make their child live with a disability.

  8. Kirsten, I agree with you. The note was a kind gesture, but judging from my experiences with my first child…I don’t know. The “atheist” version” of this saying is: “You only get the children you deserve”- but children aren’t rewards or punishments, they’re little people, they have their opinions and thoughts and ways to express themselves.. Sometimes people need to make sense of things that are difficult to understand, and then they say things like the ones you mentioned (there must be some sense in this words, because I will just not believe that this is all coincidende anc could totally happen or could have happened to me). I’ve been thinking about the saying: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”- all great but what id it DOES kill you? With my first child, I didn’t feel like I could handle her and thought I was a failure. I didn’t get stronger. Instead, I got help- daycare, other expat friends and started a blog. There is so much pressure to stay strong and calm and zen-like in the face of problems… but what about expressing the need for help? I don’t think there is a special reason why we are given the children we are given- rather than as you say genetics and environmental influences. And even those we don’t understand. We can of course say things like the ones you hear all the time, but not everyone things like that- I don’t for example. You can choose to make meaning out of difficulties, but you don’t have to. Sorry for the long comment, I hope you understand what I wanted to say.

    • One thing people tell me a lot is that they’d never be able to do what I do. But if those people had children with special needs, they would be able to do it. Because they’d have to. And you’re right, a lot of these things that we hear just adds to the pressure for us to be perfect. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Because I don’t have any children with Autism, I cannot say that I know what you’re going through, or that I understand your frustration, I do however have a 3 yr old nephew with autism, and a few young kids of my own. I also have no faith in God, but I do have respect for all religions. I feel like instead of taking this note as a way to imply that you somehow deserved this, being so special, it could be taken as a way that one person, who may have had no experience with what the family is going through, sees a glimpse of the everyday struggles this family endures, and tries to make them feel like what they are doing has a purpose. That at the end of many long and stressful days, where you may feel like you can’t go on, lock yourself in your room and have a little cry days, that somewhere inside is the strength to endure, and while obviously you’d endure without a little note, it’s nice to hear “your doing a good a job”. And I feel like this what the note was trying to say. Like have you ever been at a funeral and are at a loss for words, however it’s expected that you say something? How many people say “im sorry for your loss”? really the people in mourning COULD turn that around to be something negative, but most of them get the sentiment behind it. This isn’t trying to be a feel good story, it already is one, however for your sake, I hope no one extends the same kindness to you, lest you twist it around and make them feel bad.

    • I have no doubt that the person’s intentions were good, and I’m sure this was a case of them trying to be nice and just saying the wrong thing (the wrong thing as far as I’m concerned – the recipient of the note doesn’t seem to have had a problem). And because I’m human, I’m sure there have been times when I’ve meant well but said the wrong thing. As far as I’m concerned, the best route is just to be authentic. If someone wants to leave me a note to let me know that I’m doing a good job, they could just write, “You’re doing a good job”. Because really, that’s all I need to know.

      People do extend kindness to me, and I take it in the spirit in which it was intended. I save my narkiness for people who tell me that all my kid needs is a good hiding.

  10. You are so very correct – Life *does* give people more than they can handle on a regular basis, and sometimes really crappy parents are given children who need more than they will ever be allowed. I have one neurotypical child, and one neuro-atypical child; it is totally an accident of genetics or however the winds happened to be blowing that day. I love them both dearly, and do everything I can to be their best mom possible. But is IS overwhelming a lot of times. You raise very good points, thank you so much for sharing.

    • You make a very good point. What about all the kids (special needs or not) who did not end up with “special” parents? I hear terrible stories about children with developmental delays who are treated atrociously by their families. Like you, I simply try to be the best mom I can to both of my boys. I know that sometimes I screw up, but on average I think I do OK.

  11. Kristen simply stated her opinion which is just that…HER opinion. Her feelings don’t
    reflect what anyone else should feel. That said, since religion is such a personal topic the writer of the note should realize that the message may not be taken with the intent meant. I too have heard many of the platitudes for having special needs kids. We frequently receive comments that are condescending and criticizing both to our children and our parenting. As to not extending the same kindness to Kristen, I would rather wish that whomever extends the kindness thinks their message through before sending it to them.

    • Sue, you’ve hit on what I think the real issue is. With the cultural and religious diversity we have these days, plus the fact that people are so touchy about anything religion-specific, I feel that people should think twice about giving a complete stranger a God platitude. Like I’ve said in previous comments, I believe this gesture was well-meant and done with the purest of intentions. But the message that went with it should have been thought through a little bit better.

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