Mary Jane White


July 12, 1994

Alone with my three-year-old son, I drive the hour home along the Mississippi River from The Gundersen Clinic directly to our small-town library to look up the word that produces alarm:  autism.

In the card catalog, there is a single book: Negotiating the Special Education Maze, A Guidebook for Parents–now a twenty-five-year-old much revised classic–it lists autism as a disability, a condition requiring special education covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Turning to the glossary first, I learn autism is worse than I thought.

The mother-of-all-learning-disabilities doesn’t touch it.


I begin to feel I may have made a huge mistake–having this child as I did.

Out of wedlock.  With a man already married.

I fear autism might be the punishment—inflicted on my son:  a no-life, long life.  And my life from now on will be life-long caretaker.  Another no-life, long life.

I have no courage for this.

I am not constituted with the patience to do this.