Dysfunction and Misdiagnosis

I stopped talking to my parents nine years ago. I won’t go into it, but I had an epiphany, realizing how I treated my sons compared to how they treated me. Let me tell you, it’s been a relief not speaking with them and, magically, a long series of stomach aches ended. I recommend it to anyone with long-term parental difficulties.

To their credit, my parents didn’t stop trying to get in touch with me. In their shoes, I’d do the same. I simply wasn’t receptive to the overtures and ignored them. Lately, my father has taken his outreach to nasty levels, writing his distorted view of reality (as opposed to reality) on Facebook and Twitter (yes, Twitter!).  It’s his right, though it only reinforces my original epiphany and strikes me as a strange strategy.

One thing he wrote about Nate was eye-opening, and I’ll tell you a related story further on. He wrote – “he [that’s me] showed me no respect for all that his mother and I did for him and his sick son.” I have no idea what he’s referring to, but Nate is not sick. He’s autistic. It’s a neurological and developmental disorder, not TB, but sick is as close as my parents can get to relating to it. There’s obviously a sense that Nate’s a poor ill boy, maybe physically, maybe mentally. Probably mentally; my mother once wondered if Nate’s autism was related or caused by some mental illness on Karen’s side of the family.

Treating autistic kids as sick is a real problem. Searching for a cure, looking to heal the illness, steals valuable time from therapy and hard work. That’s been our approach. We never spent a second figuring out how to solve Nate’s problem. We rolled up our sleeves and got down to work to make him as good as he could be – professional therapy, school assistance, at home interaction. It was often difficult, sometimes felt futile, and always our number one goal. That’s where we planted our flag, in hard labor.

Here’s the promised story: once, I was on the phone with my mother, another in a multi-decade series of meaningless chats.

“You have no idea how difficult it is for me with Nate,” she said. Autism was her cross to bear, her suffering, not Nate’s.

“How hard it is for you?” Even for her this was a bit beyond the norm. “I’m his father. I’m with him every day.” This was a time when Nate was very difficult, not particularly communicative and prone to tantrums.

“I’m his grandmother. It’s different.” QED, end of story. She had it worse than any of us.

But back to Nate. We never saw Nate as sick; he’s not. Far from it. He’s quite well and getting better all the time. We only saw him as different and challenging, needing attention, not sympathy, who, with tremendous support, could do great things. Thank goodness he’s got good parents behind him.

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About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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One Response to Dysfunction and Misdiagnosis

  1. When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, my mother felt roughly the same way you did. My aunt was a lot like your parents in that she felt it was her duty to educate my mother on all of the problems associated with Aspergers. To top it off, when I was out of school and on my own, my aunt felt it was her personal duty to tell everyone, including my employers and one potential land lady that I have Asperger’s.

    I quickly put a stop to that, but of course, she accused me of being in “denial” because I wouldn’t wear the diagnosis like a shirt for everyone to see.

    I don’t even like bringing it up in conversation, because even though it is more widely known of now, people still have misconceptions about it and I get intensely bored with having to be the one to educate them. I mean, the shrink that diagnosed me was paid for his work, so why should I tell others about it for free?

    Anyway, I know your son is on a different end of the spectrum, and being a fellow “Nate” I’m glad that he is also fortunate enough to have supportive parents.

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