It’s All My Fault: An Autism Mom’s Guilt


My friend Jen sent me this article today. I appreciate how people always think of us when they read about autism. Often we receive articles or news stories from friends or acquaintances, accompanied by a note that says, “I hope you don’t mind me sending this to you…”

I never mind. In fact, I so appreciate the fact that people are reading about autism, thinking about autism, and spreading awareness about autism. So, thank you, all of you, who have passed on this information to me. Thank you for thinking of us.

This article entitled “Poison Fruit: Dow Chemicals Wants Farmers to Keep Using Pesticide Linked to ADHD and Autism,” struck a nerve. Reading it was extremely difficult. You see, it talks about a possible cause of autism; these pesticides and a particular chemical called chlorpyrifos.

Mike and I have never concerned ourselves about the cause of autism. We tell people, “We don’t go down that road.” For us, the cause of autism is not relevant. All we care about is giving Braden all he needs so he can be happy. Why does it matter how his autism happened? We have always felt this way.

Really we have…




I have an extremely strong memory of a time when I was just a few months pregnant with Braden. It was in the morning before school, and we were getting ready to leave the house. We were living on a small compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia called Al Rabwa. Our best friends lived in the house right next door, and when I looked out the window that morning, I saw plumes of smoke coming from, what I thought, was our friend Mark’s car. I screamed to Mike that Mark’s car was on fire and I ran out of the house as I feared for Mark’s life.

It wasn’t his car. It wasn’t smoke. It was pesticides. A man in a little white car was driving by spraying all the bushes with poison. I had run out of the house and into a cloud: a cloud full of poison.

I have thought about this moment so often. It has woken me in the middle of the night. Could that one moment have changed how Braden’s brain was developing? Did that one decision cause his autism?


But guess what. It’s not the only reason I fear that I am the cause of Braden’s disability.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s there was a popular theory about mothers of children with autism. These mothers were said to be cold and distant. They showed a lack of warmth which earned them the title of “refrigerator mother.” This theory was debunked, of course. But I have asked myself more than a million times, “Was I a good enough mother to Braden when he was a baby?”

“Maybe I didn’t hold him enough.”

“Maybe I didn’t talk to him enough.”


Then there is the theory of mothers who have too many silver mercury amalgam fillings in their mouth and that they pass this mercury poison on to their fetus at the moment of conception. I had lots of fillings. Bad genetics, unfortunately.

Next theory: Vaccinations. Nope: Not going down that road. These did not cause Braden’s autism. Science has proven it. I refuse to feel guilty for preventing my son from getting various diseases which could have killed him or others.

Theories…theories…theories…so many to think about and even more theories that I have made up on my own. “Maybe it’s because I…” To be honest, I have lain awake many nights wondering what I did to cause Braden’s autism even though I promised myself and Mike that we weren’t going to worry about it.


But I do worry about it.

After I had read the article today, I felt sick. Did this one decision I had made to “save Mark” cause Braden’s autism?

I talked to Mike about it. I reminded him of the story. As we re-hashed the story, we came to a realization. That incident? The one I remember so vividly? It was actually when I was pregnant with Madison! I had my timeline messed up. It couldn’t have been Braden because we were living in a different house during that pregnancy.

Does that mean that poison and pesticides did not cause Braden’s autism? No. The poison very well could be the reason. What the theories are so far is that autism is caused due to a genetic predisposition with some sort of environmental trigger that happens at just the right time during gestation. We raised Madison and Braden in the same compound in Saudi. Could the pesticides have caused it? Yes. Could my fillings have caused it? I doubt it. Could it just have been some strange fluke? Who knows?

Unless we go and take part in studies, we will not learn of the cause. I’m okay with that.

Today made me realize that I truly don’t care. Guilt be damned.

It’s time to go back to only caring about what’s important…that our son is happy. And from what we know and what we see of him each and every day? He is…

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