Posted in autism, parenting

On Autism: Assuming Legal Guardianship of My Son Instead of Attending His High School Graduation

For the last week or so I’ve been holed up at my favorite yoga studio, working out my frustration with and trying to figure out how I feel about signing off on my son’s Guardianship paperwork in a couple weeks. Leading Man #1 has Autism and Intellectual Disability on paper. He is unable to function independently. TheEx and I will assume legal guardianship on his 18th birthday and kiddo will become an “un-emancipated adult.”

So how do I feel? It’s gone in stages.

  • First, I got angry, really, really angry. Why did this happen? Why isn’t my son going to graduate in June like a typical teenager? Why does an  attorney have to explain to him in a formal setting that he’ll be under his dad and I’s care for the foreseeable future?
  • Next, I felt guilty. It had to be those peanut butter M&Ms I ate every day at lunch during my pregnancy! I gave up residential custody! I moved to Massachusetts when kiddo was 8!
  • Then I assessed blame. Mostly to the high school JR attended before he was placed out of district, to the school district in general, to the water quality in his hometown, to M&M Mars, to TheEx, and, of course, to myself.
  • After that, I got depressed, really, really depressed. On Facebook, my mom friends were posting senior prom and graduation photos and talking about which colleges their neurotypical kids got accepted to.

As happy as I was for my friends and their kids, seeing those posts sucked. Seriously, when did TheEx and I stop planning for college and start planning for a vocational job? When was the crucial moment where JR turned the corner from “With the proper supports he can…” to “He might not ever be able to”? I know I’ve been a long distance parent for the last decade, but I’m an active presence in my son’s life nonetheless. I wouldn’t have missed that pivot. 

Somewhere inside of me, through all of the specialists, the neurologists, the psychiatrists, the school social workers, and the wretched IEP meetings, telling me otherwise. I still believed we would never reach this moment. I honestly thought that if TheEx and I can just find the right doctor, the right Molotov cocktail of medications, the right …something, the frosted contact paper that seems to veil my son’s true potential from the world would be ripped away, and he would magically become high functioning. 

Assuming legal guardianship feels like I’m giving up.

“Seriously, when was the crucial moment my son turned the corner from “With the proper supports he can…” to “He might not ever be able to”?

I know better. I also know many autistics will scream at me and call me “Martyr Mom,” say I can’t accept my child as he is and my son is good enough as such. That’s not the problem. I love my son exactly as he is. I accept him. I know JR is good enough, because for me, there is no question he is “good enough.” Of course he is! He’s my son. Even during a meltdown, or, actually quite worse, the very neurotypical 100th blast of anime teen angst music from his bedroom, I wouldn’t change a thing.

My dilemma, and why I am holed up in a 100 degree yoga studio sweating out a downward facing dog trying to sort out my feelings, is this: JR is my child. I am supposed to take care of him. I am supposed to protect him. Somehow, by JR growing up atypical, it feels like I failed somehow…like I let my son down. Will JR hate me for assuming guardianship and taking his legal rights away? Will he hate me for not finding that “magic pill (therapy, etc.)” that would have prevented me from doing so?

Will Leading Man #1 ever know what, in the eyes of a neurotypical world, he “missed out on”? That’s a very valid question. The answer is as yet to be determined.

Did I fight hard enough to find that magic…whatever? Again, that’s a very valid question, and again, the answer is as yet to be determined. 

I know I shouldn’t mourn my son’s lost potential, but I do. Like most people, I am hardwired to believe in “normal” and to want “normal things” for my son. My son’s life is not normal. It never has been. That was okay until now…until senior year of high school…until TheEx and I were gently but firmly told guardianship had to happen.

In the end, I decide I feel horrid about having to sign that paperwork, about having to take legal guardian ship of my brilliant 18 year old. I let myself feel that way for one more downward facing dog, and then I let it go. Wallowing in the loss of what might have been won’t make what will be better. It’s also a waste of time. I have better things to do, like spend quality time with my son. 

I also think I’ll stay off Facebook until August.

Originally written Spring 2019.