The gift of being an autistic parent

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I have autism. One of my sons is also autistic. He was diagnosed PDD-NOS when he was 3. He is now 12. I wasn’t told that I was on the spectrum until only a few months ago.

After reading miles upon miles of reasons why autistic parents don’t always make the best of parents, I spent a few days deep in thought over my parenting. Current and past.

I’ve decided that I rock. I’m doing okay. I have a brilliant, creative, confident, well-adjusted, honest and opinionated son.

I try to be more mindful now of how I relate and interact with people in general and my family in particular. I don’t want to be cold, indifferent, distant. I know I am none of those things.

When my son was born, I knew nothing about autism. When he was super-clingy to me, I allowed it. It felt right. I didn’t know why he seemed so sensitive to so many things, but I didn’t feel like it was my job to change that – I felt it was my job to give him what he needed. My husband was amazed at his normally somewhat-shy wife, who suddenly was bold as a lioness and fearless. The constant criticism of parents (you’re spoiling them, etc) can be overwhelming. It takes guts to be able to shake it off and do what you know is best for your kiddo. I took on learning about babies, then children, then speech delays, then autism, then food sensitivities, as I took on everything else – with a passion and a zest to become very knowledgable.

Here are three gifts that allowed me into my autistic son’s world, courtesy of my own autism. I don’t think they’re exclusive to autistic parents! Of course.

1) I could easily toss aside conventional wisdom and ritual. I got him. If he needed heavy blankets at night to sleep well, then so be it. I did too. If being around people tired him out, if he needed shielded from the news or newspapers, if he hated all clothing except the softest, if he refused to have help while eating…whatever it was, it was okay. He hated clothing tags – I cut them out. He didn’t talk for years – we communicated silently. He loved being read to – we read tons, and his dad started a ritual they continue to this day of a nightly reading. When he was 5 and still in diapers, I didn’t push him or punish – he had zero interest in it and he wasn’t ready. When he showed a genuine connection to animals – we facilitated this. He felt what he felt, thought what he thought. It was like he came into this world with a whole new game plan that no one knew about. I made it my focus to learn this new game plan.

2) I became an expert on my own child. I studied him, learned, paid attention to every detail. I allowed him to be himself, even if I didn’t always understand. I didn’t expect him to fit into some idea I had about how he should be or act. I took him as he was. I adored him as he was. I knew there were issues, but I also instinctively knew that trying to force him to act “right” wouldn’t help him – his “right” was just what he was doing. That became MY right. I worked like crazy to help him, but always from the basis of where he was. I was over-protective of his heart. Which brings me to my next one:

3) I didn’t try to make him fit into our world. Rather, I tried to join his. This may sound obvious, but when you have a child having an absolute meltdown at a store (or a meltdown anyplace), it usually isn’t their fault. Kids are dragged all over, in settings that can be very traumatic for them. It can be hard to cope. For them, I mean. Grocery stores – home to loud fluorescent lighting, tons of colors and boxes and foods and people, so much input coming at you…grocery stores can be difficult. Stuck into a hard metal seat on wheels, whisked around all the aisles and lights and commotion…it was too much for him. I got it – long before he had any diagnosis.

I really don’t know if this will actually help anyone, or not. It helped me, to think about it. I’m no expert on parenting – but I AM an expect on parenting my son. I’m still learning, and I know as we hit his teen years I will have much more to learn. Being a parent on the spectrum gives me an insight, a gift, a view into my son that I have always been thankful for even before it had a name.

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