Seeing Ezra: A Mother's Story of Autism

Gotham teacher Kerry Cohen has recently seen the publication of her memoir Seeing Ezra: A Mother's Story of Autism, Unconditional Love, and the Meaning of Normal. It’s the story of a mother trying to do what’s best for her autistic child, which often means going against the grain of conventional wisdom, while also encountering strains in her personal life connected to the stress of it all. The book is a provocative and fiercely honest follow-up to Kerry’s acclaimed memoir Loose Girl.

Here’s a passage from the book in which Kerry takes her son, who has fallen sick, to an unfamiliar doctor.

“Did you vaccinate him?” the naturopathic doctor asks.

I don’t want to answer her, because I know where this conversation goes. I did vaccinate him, partially and selectively. He never had the MMR. He never had a bad reaction. He never lost skills. He has always been who he is. How do I begin to explain to this person, someone I will likely not see again after today’s visit, that I don’t believe vaccines have anything to do with Ezra’s autism? That instead I believe the thirteen epidemiological scientific studies that have shown that there isn’t even a correlation between the two. I would never suggest that another mother might be wrong for believing vaccines harmed her child, because even as I believe the science, I also know that parenting is so individual, so completely none of someone else’s beeswax. Why does this notion seem so hard for others to understand? Why the hell do other parents, doctors, strangers think it’s acceptable to tell other parents what their kids need? I’m tired of the assumptions, of having to defend what I know to be true about my son, of having to tell a stranger, once again, that I know all about the alternative research and the anecdotes and the websites. I don’t want to have to have this discussion just because I let slip that my son is autistic.

So I say, “I’d like to talk instead about how to help Ezra feel better.”

She frowns. “Vaccinations might be directly related.”

“I really don’t think they are,” I say as firmly as I can.

She stares me down. Finally, she takes a deep breath and presses the air through tight lips: judgment. I know it well. But at some point I have to stop worrying what others think about my choices with him, or that I’m a bad mother. At some point I have to stand on solid ground with Ezra, be willing to believe in what I see.

“Okay, then,” I say after a moment. “If there’s nothing else, I guess we’ll just go home and wait for this to pass.”

As we walk from the office the doctor says, “Only water, and no solids until he’s held everything down for four hours. And then only crackers or dry toast.”

I smile back at her. “I know,” I say.

Some nights, I lie next to Ezra as he’s falling asleep. I take in his profile, his lips, the soft fuzz above them, and the curve of his nose. He has a faint line on his nose like a lion or a cat, a linea nigra like the one I had on my belly when he was in my womb. When ever I look at this line I’m reminded of what he is inside, the symmetry of his body, how he grew, a human animal, organs, bones, brain, blood, in two perfect halves inside me. I remember how we worked together behind the closed curtain of my skin, forming and forming, making him whole. How we did this fiercely intimate work together. Just he and I. How when my tiny animal baby came out, we stayed connected, skin to skin, mouth to nipple.

When I think of this I know why it feels so violating to have people tell me who my child is, or where his autism came from. It’s private. It is no one else’s business how he came to be.

From the book Seeing Ezra by Kerry Cohen. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2011. For more information on Kerry and her book, visit