A Mother Shares the Pain and Pleasures—Not Politics—of Raising a Child With Autism

Stories about autism tend to feel like literary battlefields, with vaccine-theory supporters on one side and vaccine-theory opponents on the other. Which makes Sallie Tisdale’s memoir, “My Daughter, Her Autism, Our Life,” in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine so illuminating. In six pages, there’s no mention of mercury; instead, Tisdale writes with compassion and candor about what it’s like to care for her autistic daughter, Annie—“a peculiar, sweet, amusing person, irritating and courageous.” Annie drives Tisdale mad with her incessant pacing in her big running shoes in the kitchen, but the 26-year-old also manages to make her mother laugh almost every day. The emotional impact on Tisdale—and on so many other parents who have adult children with developmental disorders—is overwhelming and never-ending. She spends endless hours caring for Annie, but beats herself up anyway: “I feel sad and sorry for myself or pissed off, and then I feel petty because I’m sad and sorry for myself, because I’m complaining when things could be so much worse.” The CDC says one in 110 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Tisdale’s account movingly shows how challenging it is to be an ASD kid—and how wrenching and worrisome it is to be that child’s mother.