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.


Can You Keep A Secret?

Recently, I had the opportunity to read a delightful chick-lit book called The Booby Trap, by Anne Browning Walker. The protagonist is a woman who works in a bar similar to Hooters. Everyone just assumes that she is a bimbo, because she is blond and pretty, and earns a living in a place where men ogle her. What they don’t know is that she is a PhD candidate, and that her job provides her with material for her dissertation on women’s studies.

The woman meets a rich man during one of her shifts, and he has the same assumptions about her that everyone else does. She agrees to go out with him, but carefully guards her secret. She’s not ready for him to know that she is smart and ambitious – not at the beginning, anyway.

Although I would classify this story as very enjoyable light reading, it does raise an interesting question. How much do we really know our partners? Especially right after we’ve met them? Sometimes we go into relationships without really knowing a person, and I’m not talking about their deep dark history or the skeletons in their closet. Everyone has baggage that they don’t want to reveal right away.

No, I’m talking about the basic stuff. The information that most people can reasonably expect to know about someone before they start dating them. Here’s an example: I once dated a guy for five months without knowing that he was married. That’s a pretty fundamental thing to not know about your boyfriend. In fairness to me, the guy hid it really well. He kept a separate apartment in the city, he didn’t wear a ring, and nothing in his behaviour indicated that he had a wife stashed away.

Right after I found out about the wife, I broke up with him. It was nasty – the kind of breakup that involves yelling and insults slung all over the place. About ten days later, I was sitting on a park bench licking my wounds and vowing never to trust another man, when a stranger sat down beside me and told me I had beautiful eyes.

It was love at first sight. We went on our first date that night and we’ve been together since. We moved in together very soon after meeting, and neither of us kept anything secret from the other. We pretty much laid all our cards on the table right away.

There was one thing that was a little odd, though, and I’ve never been able to figure out the rationale behind it. When I met this stranger in the park, we exchanged basic biographical information. I told him that my name was Kirsten, I was originally from South Africa, and I was 31 years old. He told me that his name was Gerard, he was a first-generation Canadian of Irish descent, and he was 38 years old.

He lied about his age. At the time we met, he was actually about to turn 42.

It was not a big deal – I honestly didn’t care how old he was, and now I look back on it with a degree of bemusement – but it was just so unexpected.

I mean, a dude? Lying about his age?


I thought only women lied about their ages, and to be honest, I’m not really too sure about the reasoning behind that either.

When Gerard told me his true age, he did give an explanation about the little piece of misinformation. I cannot remember the explanation now, but it seemed very philosophical at the time. I was so enthralled with him that I would have believed anything. He could have convinced me that he was actually an alien from Mars.

And who knows? Maybe he is.

Have you ever found out any secrets about your partner? Has he or she ever found out any about you?

(Photo credit: Steven Depolo. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)