Darwinism or Autism? The Quest for Survival

You know when you have a newborn baby and the only thing that gets you through the sleepless nights is knowing that one day very soon this torture will be nothing but a fleeting memory?

What if someone told you that the torturous sleep deprivation was never going to end. That this is how it was going to be for the rest of your life. Instead of a memory, it will be your daily reality. What if they also told you that you will sometimes be up in the middle of the night catering to him for 3 or 4 hours straight, unable to go back to sleep for fear of his safety.

What if that person also told you that your baby was going to grow up physically, but that was it. He was not going to grow cognitively or developmentally. You will have to take care of every little detail for that child like he is four weeks old, even when he is four years old, or even 40 years old.  And that even when your baby turns 18 and all the other 18 year olds are leaving for college, your baby will never leave the house, unless he is going to a residential facility or a personal care home.

If you had an option, would you still have that baby?

The description is a little dramatic, I know. But, it is my reality.

I recently read an article about a Princeton professor who suggested that severely disabled infants be killed in order to cut health care costs, and also for “moral reasons”. He feels that the “right to life” is based on that persons “capacity for intelligence and to hold life preferences.” He goes on to say that he doesn’t want his “health insurance premiums to be higher so that infants who experience zero quality of life can have expensive treatments.”

I think the initial thought process towards this professor, for most people who have a beating heart, is ‘blasphemy’. It was my first thought, anyway. I have a special needs child who falls into this category of “low capacity for intelligence” and “zero quality of life”. The thought of killing him as an infant is not even a thought that has ever crossed my mind.

A few days after I read this article I started contemplating the actual underlying meaning, and his actual thought process. It hit me during a play date. The depression usually hits hard during play dates because that’s when I REALLY see the difference between my son and every other child. Even those that are far younger than him. And, even those who are also autistic. My friends 1-year-old daughter shook her head ‘no’ in response to a question that her mother asked her. Wow! My 4, almost 5-year-old, has never shook his head no.

Another ‘slap in the face–your son is way too low functioning’ moment came this morning. My husband and I went on a tour of an autism school that sounded perfect for our son. After talking a little bit about our son and his abilities (or lack thereof), the director pretty much told us in so many words that our son was probably not appropriate for the school, based on his limited functioning and abilities. OK, so if he can’t even go to an autism school, what are his other options? If you won’t even take our $30,000, who will?

So this got me thinking about Charles Darwin, and his idea of “survival of the fittest”. It also got me thinking about this professor who feels we should just eliminate these ‘problem’ children from the beginning. All of a sudden, I actually understood where he was coming from.

As I couldn’t imagine my  life without my precious baby, I also can’t imagine how his life is going to be when he is at the age where he is required to take care of himself. My husband and I have sleepless nights (besides the fact that our son keeps us awake) worrying about his future. I know it’s not good to live in the future, but us special needs parents don’t have a choice. Not only are our days filled with worrying about the present, and sometimes just getting through the day is difficult enough, but we have to constantly think about what parameters have to be put into place to help him navigate his world in the future, or heaven forbid, live without us. And because our son has had little to no improvement, along with significant regression, over the past 2 years, we definitely have to consider this.

I think when people initially hear what this professor says, we think he is being selfish and shallow, only focusing on the strong and able. If I may play devils advocate, is it selfish to keep a baby based on our religious values or desires to have a baby, regardless of how difficult that child’s life will be? To not only torture the child through these impossible obstacles, but also torture the parents watching it? My son cries everyday, sometimes numerous times a day, and because of his limited communication, I usually cannot ease his pain. This is very difficult when it is someone you love more than anyone else in the world. I think that’s sort of what this professor is saying. The burden on the parents, children, hospitals and financial/insurance companies combined doesn’t have to be an issue if “it” (as he calls the child in question) is just eliminated from the beginning. However, very few people could fathom killing their precious gift from God, including myself.

The reason I blog about the depressing things in my autism life is not for others to feel sorry for me (but if you want to, you are more than welcome), but more for empathy. Everyone wants others to put themselves in their shoes at times so they understand their struggle, and where they are coming from. And like I always say, now you know why I’m such a bitch and never want to talk to you. (Just kidding…..sort of). I also disclose my innermost feelings to help with autism awareness. People know it must be hard, but they don’t really know why and how it’s hard. They think, ‘oh it’s got to be hard that he doesn’t talk, and can’t play with others, and has meltdowns,’ but there is so much more than that.

I get a little frustrated when some autism advocates say how important it is to appreciate who your child is first, instead of pushing therapies and worrying what society may think about them. As much as I 100% agree, I also have my child in therapy 8 hours a day so that he can learn to drink out of a cup, be potty trained at some point in the near future, draw a straight line, know how to take turns, be able to sit at a table for more than 2 seconds, know the difference between yes and no and how to shake your head accordingly, know how to open a door and open a bag of chips, etc, etc. This is not just about having him look normal to society, but more about him being able to hopefully live independently when he is older. And, to hope that when these professors pushing to kill newborns become more frequent, our weakest links (AKA, the loves of our lives) won’t be eliminated.

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