A is for Autism … and Other Topics My Mother Doesn’t Want Me to Discuss


My daughter has autism. There, I said it. It’s not like I’m ashamed or anything. Mom thinks that’s because my daughter is adopted. In other words, it’s not my fault. She believes I’d feel differently if Katie was my biological child, but I don’t think so. Most days I forget I was never pregnant. Women with biological children always think they misheard when I say that aloud. But it’s true. I skipped morning sickness, stretch marks, and breastfeeding classes and plunged straight into the deep end of the parenting pool.

Was it stressful? Of course. Would I do it again? Most definitely. But it doesn’t make me any different than the other mothers out there. We’re all just doing the best we can, with the tools we’ve got on hand. And sometimes all we have is a pair of warped plastic safety scissors and a stained oven mitt.

It helps in this line of work to be a good problem-solver.

For those of you who don’t already know me, my name is Cynthia Patton and I’m an author, attorney, and autism mom. I have a blog on my author website called An Unplanned Life (you can find it here). I’m also a public interest attorney. I used to practice environmental law, but these days my focus is special needs advocacy. I have a blog on that website as well. It’s called the Special Needs Advisor and focuses on less personal, more technical subjects such as IEPs and how to advocate for your exceptional child (you can find it here).

I have a plan in my head (and even on paper!) for how to keep these three blogs distinct and separate, but that’s just in theory. I’m sure the reality—like life—will be messier. That’s okay. This is a place where it’s safe to be messy.

In the autism world, it’s okay to color outside the lines.

In addition to autism and adoption, there are many interesting A-words in my life: addiction, alcoholism, abandonment, anger. I have what many would call a colorful life. Some might say crazy. Personally I think it’s a good thing I’m a writer. Even if my life becomes dull as a worn butter knife from here on out, I’ll have an abundance of material. More than I can ever use. But trust me when I say the material keeps pouring in. Even without the other A-words, autism virtually guarantees a life of adjustment and accommodation, a life of chaos and change. Unlike most, I’m okay with that. A specialist once told me I needed to cultivate a tolerance for fringe behavior. “That’s easy,” I said. “I’d much rather my daughter be eccentric than boring.”

Autism is many things, but boring it is not.

It’s also nothing to fear. Like all of the “interesting” A-words on my list, I used to fear autism. I don’t anymore. I didn’t get there overnight, but now it’s just a word, like awesome, awkward, and amazing.

And just for the record, I don’t think Katie’s autism is the birthmother’s fault. I don’t think it was caused by vaccines either, although I suspect they didn’t help the situation. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what I think on this subject except that I’m convinced autistic children are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. Something terrible and life-altering is happening in our environment, and we are ignoring (or possibly avoiding) the warning signs.

I want this blog to be a place where parents can talk about the things that scare and overwhelm them. I want it to be a place where people are honest, helpful, and most of all, authentic. Together we’ll create a chain of love and hope that leads us out of the dark.

Follow me to the best A-word of all: acceptance.

I’m glad you’re here.


A is for Autism … and Other Topics My Mother Doesn’t Want Me to Discuss — 2 Comments

  1. Ryan Jones and Lisa Fish referred us to you. We have an 8 year old son with autism and it’s been a very isolating and stressful situation for the family. Connecting with others and learning about available resources is the impetus for my contacting you.

    • Welcome Joanne! Yes, autism can be very isolating and stressful. That’s a large part of why we created Autism A to Z. This is exactly the place for you and your family. We are just gearing up, so if you have any ideas or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to let us know. And try to attend our next Support in the Park. The parents talk while the kids play, which eliminates the need for childcare. For the summer we are holding them in parks with water features. Next one is on Saturday, August 8th at 3 pm in Central Park in San Ramon. It’s on Alcosta Blvd, just past Bollinger. Hope to see you there!

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