My husband Joseph and I were married on a whim; we went on vacation and just decided to just go for it. We were (sort of) young, in love and full of hope. It was all so easy.
Then we returned from vacation and went on about our life. Eventually I got pregnant (nope, wasn’t planned), I continued going to school, and I returned to work after our son was born. Our family plate was full but life was manageable. We were still in love and we still had hope.
On the day our son, Norrin, was diagnosed with autism — everything that came so easily became really hard.
Joseph and I sat in the doctor’s office, holding hands in silence. I spent the weeks of the evaluation process preparing to hear those words, but Joseph believed that Norrin was “just fine” and needed a little more time to catch up. As the doctor explained the diagnosis and all of Norrin’s developmental delays, Joseph squeezed my hand tighter. I could feel all the dreams that a father has for his son crumbling.
At two years old, Norrin had the cognitive level of a 14-month-old and the language level of a 7-month-old. Norrin couldn’t point, wave, or clap. Every evaluation score was either low or moderately low. And while the doctor recommended a laundry list of therapies – he offered little hope.
It was hope that we needed the most. Because within a matter of hours, all of our hope had been taken.
The doctor asked us if we wanted more children. He explained that if we did, there’d be a chance that our second child would also have autism. I knew Joseph wanted more children but after the diagnosis, I didn’t want to take that chance.
And then there was the statistic that followed us everywhere, the one I read in every autism book I picked up: Couples with special needs children have a higher divorce rate.
I can understand how the stress of raising a child with autism (or any other special need) can take its toll on a marriage. There is anger, worry, doubt, and maybe even blame. But instead of driving us apart, our son’s autism brought us closer together.
In those early years, when I needed Joseph the most — he was there. He showed up at meetings, he read through paperwork and he was present during therapies. He let me curl up into a ball and cry when I needed. He made appointments and filled out forms, when it all got to be too much for me. He couldn’t do it all the time but he made every effort to be there, to ask questions, to be involved. We were a team and we took turns being strong for each other.
While I did the legwork of being an autism mom — touring schools, going to appointments, researching programs — Joseph did laundry, cooked meals and offered back rubs. And when he couldn’t or didn’t know how to help — he just reminded me that there was always hope. I don’t think I could have made it through without him.
We both continued to work and I continued to go to school. Eventually things went from being difficult to part of our normal routine. We adopted and accepted our roles as special needs parents. And we did so as a couple, and as a family.
A few years ago, I heard someone say: If a marriage is weak, it will fall apart. If a couple is strong, it will make them stronger.
Being married isn’t easy and raising a child with autism hasn’t made our marriage any easier. We fight. We worry. We love. We hope. Hope gave us the strength we needed.
Our marriage is far from perfect but it is strong, and that strength is what holds us together. There is no other person in this world who understands how I feel about raising Norrin, better than my husband. And I am grateful that we have each other to lean on.