Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Love vs. Fear

Joaquin's little hand in papa's big hand signing their book of hiking trails I used to think that if you do Son-Rise perfectly, your child would have no option but to recover (as in, be fully “cured” of autism). I made this belief in order to motivate myself to play perfect Son-Rise and put all of me behind the goal of Joaquin’s recovery. I took this belief in an attempt to feel like I have control.

Early this year, during our stay at the Autism Treatment Center or America for our Son-Rise Intensive program, I was confronted with this belief. During that week Joaquin “regressed” in such a dramatic way, I soon started to judge myself and fear other people’s judgment. I was afraid that everybody would judge my efforts and performance based on looking at Joaquin’s progress.

Samahria even said something that stirred that fear in me in a very deep way. At the time I didn’t appreciate her comment. She had looked at Joaquin for a few minutes. He was acting completely rigid and exclusive at the time; nothing at all like he had been at home for so many months. She was talking to Joey about acceptance, attempting to inspire him beyond where he was. She commented on Joaquin’s rigidity and said

“You just have to look at the kid to know the parents.”

I took it as “You just have to see how rigid, withdrawn, and un-trusting Joaquin is to know that you have not accepted him enough.

I felt horrible. Misunderstood. Judged. And I proceeded to have a breakdown in which I battled with the belief that if my child doesn’t recover, everybody—beginning by myself—will believe that I just didn’t do my job well.

Exhausted by the last day of our Son-Rise Intensive week
Exhausted on the fifth morning of our Son-Rise Intensive week.

I have come a long way from there during these last eight months.

For one, (as much as I can) I no longer act from fear. I have come to believe that any action that stems from fear is not the right one. I have experienced in a very vivid way how fearful thoughts deplete me from energy, shut down a big portion of my brain, hurt me, and paralyze me. Fear just doesn’t inspire me to do the right thing anymore. And so, I’ve been releasing many personal fears.

I also have come to understand deeply the attitude that is at the core of Son-Rise, way beyond the techniques taught—which to me are simply ways of putting us (people attempting to connect with an autistic child) in touch with the right attitude. Even joining, I believe, is really more for me than for Joaquin. The purpose of joining an autistic child in his exclusive behavior is for me to get in touch with love and acceptance for him. And when I do, that’s when he can choose to connect with me. It’s not about him noticing that I’m joining him and then feeling accepted. It’s not our external actions that matter, but what we’re feeling inside. Autistic children read vibration, and they don’t seek acceptance. Those are my beliefs, of course.

This morning, as Joey prepared to go out on a hike with Joaquin and confessed to me that he was feeling guilty about hiking together instead of doing “therapy” in the Romper Room, I told him many things. One I wanted to share is this:

I believe that Raun Kaufman needed to recover from autism to the extent he did because us, parents of today, needed the evidence of his “full recovery” in order to dare to believe that love and acceptance are the way. When you start your journey as a parent of an autistic child, you are full of fear. And there’s no way that most of us would trust this course of action—love—should we not have the evidence and promise of a potential full recovery. That’s what we’re after when we begin.

But I’m no longer going for that (Joaquin being “cured” from autism). I’m no longer allowing fear to dictate my actions. Fear of the future and a strong sense of responsibility to do all I can to help Joaquin become as close to typical as he can, still try to creep in my thoughts, but I’ve learned that at this point any actions I take from that place don’t work. They don’t work for me (they don’t feel good; they don’t last), and I believe that they would not take Joaquin any further than he can go, if instead, every day I act from the heart, loving him and myself and accepting who we both are at the present moment, and act in the kindest possible way to both of us.

Passion at work
Whenever I want to get my heart’s vibration in coherence, all I have to do is look at the clenched fist and tiny arm, and his whole expression while he writes.

Joaquin has developed in such a way that there is no longer urgency to pull him out of an unreachable shell. I believe that he will continue to develop and eventually be able to function in the world independently (and if he doesn’t, I don’t fear that so much anymore). Of course I continue to provide the best environment I can to optimize his growth and inspire him to overcome his challenges. But if Joaquin develops in a way that autism is still evident in him many years from now, it doesn’t matter. I check my feelings for him every day and ask myself: Do I love him and accept him as he is right now?—Yes I do. So why would I think that I may not in the future? Why would I think that there will be a day in which I’ll see him and think Damn Maria! Look at how bad his situation is! It’s your fault; you did not do enough to change him and prevent this!.

I have come to a place where I trust that he is developing exactly as he should. I see it every day. I see and feel the beautiful connection he has with those he loves and trusts; I see him learning new things every day; I feel the happiness in his looks and laughs; I see the essence of who he is intact, and I feel him sharing it with us. And I believe that the best I can do to support this process is to simply be and be present with him, acting from love towards him and myself as best as I can.

And so I no longer agree with guilt or fear for not doing Romper Room one or two or three days, if doing it feels like hard work because I’m doing it believing that “I have to” because I fear who Joaquin will be in the future if I don’t push myself to do this now. I’d rather do what feels light and allows me to enjoy and love him more right now. Interestingly enough, this makes me highly loving, patient, and fun, and Joaquin connects and learns no less than he has all these months that I’ve done Son-Rise by the book.

If this easiness and flow results in him retaining characteristics that we label as autistic, so be it. Little by little, and probably still some more to go, I have stopped seeing his atypicality as a problem to be fixed, his behaviors as a reflection of me, and his recovery as the goal of my life and the reason for my existence. I have realized that my fears are about me; not him. The fear of me not accepting him in the future. Me judging myself or being judged in the future. Me fearing for my child in the future. Me not being happy in the future. Me not being okay.

But I am happy now.
I accept myself now.
I love Joaquin now.
Joaquin is okay now.
I am okay now.

So I know that it will be okay.

Joaquin exploring books' tables of contents
He piled up that specific selection of books and proceeded to go through every table of contents.

A few days ago Joaquin directed me to a specific page from The Little Prince. We were playing with books and after I announced that I’d like to read a little from the Principito, he looked at the table of contents (a current passion of him) and told me let’s pretend that mama is on page 50. It was the chapter where a seed from a foreign planet lands on the Principito’s planet and grows up to become his beloved rose… A petulant high-needs creature who he did not understand at first, and then learned to accept and love as his best friend and most precious treasure.

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  1. On , Bonni wrote:

    The light of your awareness is so bright I can FEEL it from Florida…..Thank you for taking the time to share this compassionate insight with us all. Love

  2. On , Maria wrote:

    Oh Bonni… I wish!
    Truth is, I write this; my conscious mind believes this. And suddenly events happen… Events I’m probably attracting in order to be consistent with this, and I start feeling the fear. Fear of making a mistake. I start feeling the panic and all my muscles tensing. I’m going to bed early today. I’m going to ask for guidance (like I haven’t had enough already), and hope that I wake up aligned again; trusting and daring to act from love and not fear.

  3. On , David wrote:

    Maria — you are such a good mother for Joaquin! I see a lot of similarities between your situation and families I know that deal with a child having conditions like diabetes, ADHD, or other chronic conditions. Even if there is no permanent “cure”, once you accept the situation and can see it clearly, you can adapt, plan, and live to the best that your circumstances allow, without worry about what others may judge. Joaquin may not “be like other kids” but that doesn’t matter if he is loved, can love himself, and has the opportunity to be his “best” self.

    My friend with a diabetic child had to recently educate his school teacher about his condition and how he needed special consideration on a regular basis to monitor and maintain his blood sugar. (This teacher insisted on treating him like everyone else and refused to let him take time for himself as his doctor and condition required.)

    My son was burned in an accident several years ago and in a parent support meeting I discovered that the best situations for both adults and other children was open communication. Some parents would actually ask firemen or EMTs to come to the classroom to educate the teacher and other children about fire, burns, scars, etc. so that rather than pointing and staring at what is different, they can see beyond it and accept and love that person for who they are.

    So many of us, especially adults, have a problem seeing beyond visual indicators. Those of us who know better will always deal with people and situations where people misjudge and don’t understand. It certainly isn’t easy, but how we react to dealing with other people and helping them see beyond the obvious condition, will make a huge difference.

    Hang in there!

  4. On , Maria wrote:

    David… thank you for such a kind comment.

    I didn’t know about your son’s accident. Thank you for sharing your experience. You know what’s beautiful?… I believe that as crazy and intolerant as this world may seem at times, I see spurts of love and acceptance growing everywhere. We all are being touched by some kind of event that makes us question so many beliefs. Maybe this wave hasn’t reached everybody personally… But I see it rippling throughout the world taking all kinds of manifestations, teaching all of the touched ones how to become better human beings.

    Things are happening. I feel it. I’m very hopeful for the future of the collective consciousness. So many of us are starting to find a new kinder more loving way to be in the company of everything and everybody that is. That’s the blessing in everything that seems tragic at first.

    Much love to you…