Parenting an autistic child is its own ball game. Having four kids total, two with autism, that’s a whole new game! Parenting is a blessing, and it comes with its struggles as well as joys. Today was one of the days that was a struggle. Yet, in retrospect, it made me realize the blessings of my life and children.
While attending a baby shower, I was flooded with a world of emotions. Not from the shower, but within my own world. Though I know my children are not the “norm,” they are my norm and I just see them as my children. Most occasions, when attending social gatherings, it’s with people close enough that know my children already. Today was not one of those events.
There was an amazing turn out for the baby shower. Many of whom I hadn’t seen in around a decade, others several years, and a few I see more frequent. I had all four children with me, as my husband was at work. My best friend was there, so I did have help as my children see her as their aunt. As we greeted old friends, everyone would say hi to my son especially. Now this is normal, as most women instinctively say hi to cute little ones. My son however, didn’t look at them or acknowledge they exist. No interaction what so ever on his part. That is because he is autistic. Social interactions outside family are few and far between.
Just as instinctively as they would tell him hi, I instinctively would play along as if he would respond. Of course saying “Can you say hi to Susie?,” knowing darn good and well he won’t. I then say some generic line of “Oh, there’s just so much going on” and redirect the conversation. This happens over and over again until everyone has said their hellos. I continued with a smile plastered to my face, hiding the anxiety within. On the outside, we just look like any other family for the next two hours. Though the party wasn’t over in two hours, I knew my kids wouldn’t last any longer than that!
It’s all about having a game plan!
When going to such events, we prepare in advance on how it will play out. I make a game plan, assigning the kids their parts. The teenager put in charge of our autistic toddler and the preteen in charge of our autistic 9-year-old. I had snacks in the bag for all, tablets to entertain, sensory headphones, and an adult back up. If both groups needed help at one time, I’d go to one their aunt to the other. Meltdowns were avoided this time, but we stayed on the edge of meltdowns the entire event. It’s like having a well maintained car running on four spare tires. It may be structurally sound, but those spare tires are going to explode at some point!
After leaving, I was absolutely exhausted and began to feel guilt. Every time a parent of an autistic child (or any disability) is out and about, they are put in the position to either A) Announce the diagnosis at every handshake or B) Not say anything and move on with the conversation. Now don’t get wrong, by no means am I suggesting people are trying to hide their children’s disabilities. What I mean is in that initial conversation, that is the choice.
So what is it like to parenting an autistic child?
It’s a blessing, a burden, enlightening, depressing at times, exhausting yet rewarding. It’s a journey, an adventure. At times, you’ll carry a child half your size out of a store mid meltdown, kicking and screaming while dragging three more kids behind you. It is pinning your child into a shopping cart while they scream “no buckle” and scream so much they get sick all over you. The few dum-dums that look at you like you’re a bad parent because your kid is screaming. It can be exhausting, and makes your heart cry.
When in Doubt
Often times, we find ourselves doubting our parenting skills. There’s this automatic shame you feel for not better handling a situation. This embarrassment for feeling sad. It is so hard not be hard on yourself. As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to be the best person they can be and to live a happy, fulfilling life.
All too often, this expectation overruns us parents. The constant juggling act it takes just to make a trip out of the home can be overwhelming. When we are feeling weak, this is when we feel as though we’ve failed.
The key thing to remember, their diagnosis doesn’t define who they are. It’s okay not to explain their diagnosis everywhere you go. It’s also okay to do so as well. Sometimes, you will feel like a warrior. You can conquer the world single-handed. Yet other times, you feel run over. As if nothing at all can go your way.
It’s No Different yet it is Completely Different
Parenting an autistic child is no different from raising any other child. At the same time, parenting an autistic child is totally different from raising a child without autism. It’s all according to how the day goes and what happens. We just have to learn to trust our hearts to lead the way.
When that doubt overcomes you and you can bear it no more, give it to God. If you feel like crying, just because the day was long, then go ahead and cry. Letting yourself feel those emotions allows you to understand a small portion of how you child is feeling.
Autism doesn’t define the person, the person decides the autism. Do not worry about the world and how they feel, do what’s best for your family. Give yourself a break and don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re an awesome parent!
Alicia Trautwein is an autism parenting coach living in Missouri. She is the creator behind The Mom Kind, a website dedicated to parenting neurodiverse families. She is one of the head creators behind the #WeLoeveMoms campaign and is also featured in the “Amazing Moms” coffee table book by Hogan Hilling & Dr. Elise Ho. She shares her expertise along with her experience in parenting children, both with and without autism.