“Guilty” or “not Guilty” by Ashuti Menon

Why is the pain so sharp? Even when the judgement is “Not guilty, not guilty”, I can only hear the opposite in my head. “100 percent guilty, guilty without doubt.” And this voice has been there for more than a decade now. Will it ever stop?

My little boy, a very cute, bright child was extremely enthusiastic and persistent when young. If he played, he played with all his focus, and he studied with his full attention too. When he was seven years old, he won a Spell Bee competition. His opponent, envious of his success, and disappointed at having lost the first place, organized for a gang of peers to have a bashing-up party. Needless to say, my little son was at the receiving end. He came back upset, and refused to talk about it. The next day, his cousin who had seen what happened, narrated the incident to me. I became terribly distraught and wanted to take serious action. I called a meeting of all the mothers whose children were involved, told them about the incident and how it had affected my child. Many were genuinely apologetic, some pretty smug about the whole affair. That was my first realization that the world can be pretty mean to my young one.

I remember I felt quite nauseous for some time during my second pregnancy. I couldn’t hold a conversation or do anything for a while, it was so bad. On quite a few occasions, my son would come running to me and tell me that he wanted to play with me or that he wanted me to ask him some questions for his assignment. I was so sick that I had no choice but to politely turn him away. He would quietly leave without a fuss. One of those times, he got really upset, and started crying. Only then did I realize he had been feeling dejected throughout.

Once adolescence hit, he changed completely. From the bright, enthusiastic boy, he became sullen and miserable. Temper tantrums were quite common at home now. He was a very academically bright, high-functioning kid, so we never ever thought there could be anything drastically wrong. Everyone around us told us adolescence was tough for many kids, and that he would soon get past this stage. The counsellor at school also mentioned that changing cities, as well as a new baby at home, could also be possible causes for his melt-downs. We waited for things to become better, but they became worse instead. When he was fourteen years old, he was bullied in class by his partner. He asked us if we could help him, and that this boy was being very disruptive in class. Guess what we told him? “You’re old enough to handle it son. Now you should learn to fight the bully on your own.”

Fast-forward to seventeen. Covid hit, and classes went online. Soon he stopped attending classes, and went into depression. We found a note on his desk addressed to us, that confirmed our fears that he was depressed indeed. We got him assessed by a psychologist, and heard the terms, Autistic Spectrum Disorder/Aspergers Syndrome for the first time. Lots of questions were asked, and as we answered them, the dots started getting connected. Trouble tying shoe-laces, trouble making friends especially in the teens, hyper-sensitivity while brushing, extreme pickiness with food textures and tastes, an extreme rigidity with routine, vulnerability to getting bullied, and more. That explained it! But why couldn’t I connect the dots earlier? I must be really daft..or a very careless mother indeed.

Before I knew it, guilt overwhelmed me. I should have known, I was his mother after all. “But how could you”, an inner voice softly chided me. “Yeah maybe”, I replied..
But in the end, it didn’t matter whether I was guilty or not guilty. My heart had already shattered into a million pieces.

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