My husband (“papa”) processed the K’s diagnosis of autism quite differently from the way I did. The difference may be our personalities, but I am afraid this is somewhat tied to our gender. I don’t want to group and stereotype one gender’s reaction as such, but I do see a difference and understanding the potential difference may, just may, help avoid marital tension. Autism alone brings enough tension between couples. If papa didn’t say, “we MUST get along” so repeatedly that I can still visualize the scene so vividly, we might have ended up separated.
So, here’s my observation.
Papa was in rock solid denial of K’s autism/disabilities even after speech evaluation. He told me that we showed him too much TV and if we stop doing that, K would be fine. He wasn’t happy at all about my worries and negativities about K’s prognosis.
Everything changed on the day of diagnosis (a friend of mine coined the term, “our D-day”. I know this is a small stuff compared to the real D-day, but to individual parents, it is an earth shattering event). He switched from 100% denial to 100% acceptance. As though he flipped the coin. Therefore, he sustained a HUGE mental trauma at the D-day.
My reaction was very different. Since K was referred to hearing evaluation, the worries and certainty crept in slowly as I gathered more information about the symptoms and disability. Therefore, in a sense, D-day was just a verification of what I was almost certain. Still it was a blow indeed.
What irritated me was the fact that he didn’t trust me at all! But when the developmental pediatrician told, he was 100% convinced! I sincerely wondered about our relationship and if he believes me in any matters. But that is how HE processed.
On the other hand, it took me the next two years or so to fully accept that K had autism and that was not reversible. You can see the “denial bump” on the graph. When K utters something like a word, when I heared about GFCF diet, when K started music therapy, a new preschool, new therapist, and on and on and on, my “hope” which is in fact, denial, went up. And disappointment followed. As I repeated these processes, I came to a point that K is K no matter what. Then I realized that autism and being nonverbal is part of him and that I can love him as a whole. Papa took 1 day plus the recovery period to reach there. This mama took 2 years to get there.
There is no right answer for the way to accept such a devastating diagnosis. I just noticed that my husband had a really different coping strategy installed in his brain. And I felt that it was something I can’t obtain. Therefore I came to blame gender difference. I was born female and always will be. And I don’t have to pretend to be a male, because his coping strategy is different, but not superior.
Yet, I still encounter occasions that I want to say, “I TOLD YOU SO! DIDN’T YOU BELIEVE ME?”