My son was kicked off the school bus in first grade. He streaked down the hallways screaming at the top of his lungs the second day of school. He was suspended in second grade on numerous occasions and spent 90% of the time he was in school out of class, usually in the principal’s office.
So yeah, go ahead, lay it on thick.
I’ve seen the judgmental glares, and I’ve heard it all. I have been told by teachers, even a school principal and my own well-meaning family that I need to work on my parenting skills. Seriously. And then when I tell them he has Autism, it suddenly all makes sense, huh?
Just like when we see a two year old throwing a tantrum at Target, we take pity on the poor exhausted young mother offering up a wink or a smile to let her know, we know. But, do we show the same empathy towards a mother with a seven year old the same courtesy in the midst of her child’s full-blown meltdown? Maybe we do, if it appears like there might be something more to that child.
The problem with Autism is that it doesn’t usually look like there is anything wrong with the child, just the parent.
After I’ve divulged our label of Autism, then comes the debates over vaccinations, New Age behavior therapy, medications and diets. Yup. I’ve seen all of those too, and done all of those as well. My kid is 12 now; his diagnosis came at 6. I quit holding out for a cure and instead decided to focus our efforts on the immediate need of our child and his future, which ironically enough, turns out that is what parenting is all about anyways. Parents of kids with Autism are some of the most educated and well-connected parents in the world. We are constantly bouncing techniques off of one another for better ways to re-direct, create positive behavior supports and model appropriate behavior for our kids. Trust me, when that magic pill to cure Autism comes out, we will already have all of the background information on it and know which studies show what preliminary results.
My kid’s behavior usually alienates us in social settings, and I know it’s not always easy for others to know how to react. Here are a few tips I’d love for moms to remember when they encounter a family like ours:
1. We are not alone! I am surrounded by some of the most courageous, fierce and beautiful mothers in Wichita who are also raising a children with exceptionalities – be they physical, emotional or mental. We are all moms trying to get through the day, just like you.
2. Our child’s behavior is not a reflection of us. I promise that I am completely normal! I’m friendly, dependable, and interested in many things NOT related to Autism. And I am most definitely not a bad mom! I can provide sworn testimony to support this last statement.
3. Some days I’m barely holding it together, and I’d like you to pretend you don’t notice. Many times kids with Autism have crazy schedules and random non-verbal bodily functions that we don’t want to mention. I mean, really, you try going weeks being constipated and see how well you behave! So if I refuse to take off my sunglasses, because I most likely cried my eyes out trying to get my kid to cooperate, please comment on my lovely lip gloss – not my crazy hair, or the yoga pants that look like they have been through a war.
4. My kid’s rocking is “normal”. It’s how he tells me he is doing the best he can in a situation that is far too loud, too chaotic or too unusual for him to form words around or escape. We still love being invited to birthday parties, we just might need a little space. The adage “less is more” is pretty universal in our world.
5. I am the ONLY expert on my child! Remember how I said Autism parents are amazing, connected, and educated? We know what we’re doing – and we’re doing our best. Please don’t give me advice on vaccinations, diets, or therapies you read about on the internet. I know you mean well! But we are up-to-date on all the latest research, I promise.
However if you know where to get the best mani-pedi for the best price or can share a Pinterest recipe that actually turns out looking like the Pin? I’m all ears.