5 reasons that autism has made me a better mother.

boys and Fi StairsSince today is Mother’s Day, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share this post that I’ve had in my head for a while.

I’ve written many times about how you feel as a parent when you first receive that autism diagnosis and about having either an accompanying sense of relief because you finally have answers, or the overpowering grief at the loss of the dreams that you one held for your child and their future.

I discovered that when you become an autism parent you are left with the choice to either allow it to drown you or make you a better person. I drowned for many years. Far too many years actually – and even now – I still have days where I’m treading water and struggling to stay afloat but I’m not going to write about that stuff now. Tonight my post is going to be focused on all of the ways that I have noticed that autism has made me into a much better mother.

 Autism has made me a better mother because:

 1. It has caused me to slow down, to have patience and to be thankful for the little things that other people often take for granted.

I have always been an impulsive person. I like to live in the moment and I don’t like to plan ahead. My personality likes to make things up as I go along and you could describe me as someone who ‘wings it’ a lot of the time. I get agitated when I have to wait as I am incredibly impatient and my attention span (or lack thereof) often causes me to miss the finer details and skip over the boring stuff and I just want to get to the final destination having as much fun as I can along the way.

But then autism entered my world and turned it on it’s head.

I clearly remember a day many years ago when Harley was very small, probably about 4 or 5 and we were going for a walk to the park together. I just wanted to get there already and turned around every few minutes to tell him to hurry up. He was dawdling and was frustrating me because he kept crouching down and looking at the concrete path. He would stop every few steps and stare at the ground completely oblivious to my voice and my directions.

He was in his own world and his little face was etched with wonder and delight so eventually I crouched down beside him to see what was fascinating him so much.

He grabbed my hand and squeezed it and pointed (he still had very little discernible speech at this age) and then touched my cheek to turn my head to look at him. Then he smiled broadly and said: “Anz Mummy. Anz are cweeping an dey cawwy food to da hole”.

And my gaze was directed to the line of hundreds of ants who were all carrying crumbs from a sandwich – that was discarded on the side of the road – into their ant’s nest about half a metre away from where we knelt.

In that moment I realised that maybe going to the park was MY plan and that my little boy was having just as much fun watching these ants as I had imagined he would have at the playground. So we sat down and watched these stupid ants for probably another hour or so until he became tired. We never got to that playground that day but my boy was happy.

I learnt that day that my kid was never going to be like all the other kids. I learnt that he didn’t care much for playing with other children at the park but that he was able to find his happy place on a cracked footpath in the middle of suburbia with his Mama sitting right there beside him waving at the passing cars.

We have MANY moments like this in our house. The boys often being hyper focused on one small detail and become absorbed by whatever has taken their attention. Their autism and attention to detail has helped me to slow down and appreciate the beauty in everyday life that I would otherwise miss because I am always in too much of a hurry.

2. Autism has given me given me a deeper compassion for those who struggle in life.

It is often said that autism, like many other disorders such as ADHD, ODD, OCD etc are “invisible disabilities”. Meaning that unlike a child in a wheelchair, it’s not always obvious that the child has an impairment.

So these children are often expected to be like ‘every other kid’ and are told that they’re making excuses or being lazy when they are unable to conform to society expectations or when their sensory system is playing havoc because of their surrounding environment.

And that is rough.

I have experienced it first hand by hearing nasty comments aimed at both me as a parent and at my melting down child. I have also heard it from friends of mine who are now adults on the spectrum and this makes me sad.

They are frequently misunderstood and judged unfairly because they “look” just like everyone else and they are overlooked and labeled as ‘freaks’ ‘weirdoes’ or ‘attention seekers’ because of the massive lack of awareness and understanding for their struggles and the impact that it can have on their daily lives.

And I wouldn’t have the insight that I do into these difficulties and challenges that these guys face every day if I wasn’t privileged enough to experience autism first hand and see that there is always a lot more going on than what the naked eye can see.

Since becoming a mother to children with autism, I have learned to ALWAYS give the benefit of the doubt and to extend compassion in situations that I may have been judgmental towards previously.

3. Autism has helped me to stop and see the bigger picture instead of getting stuck on the ‘hard’ that’s directly in front of me.

 

I’m trying to write a positive post here but it kinda goes without saying that often autism is ROUGH. Not just on us as a family but also on my children when they are thrust into unfamiliar or frightening situations.

It can be very tempting to wallow (and I still do) when one of my kids is having a hard time but I’m learning (albeit slowly) that progress is what I should always shift my focus to when times like this hit.

I have learnt to cast my mind back to when Harley (particularly) was a lot younger and the mere thought of entering a supermarket would send chills up my spine. Back in those days he wouldn’t be able to manage more than a few minutes inside before the head banging, the screaming and the crying would begin and I would beat a hasty retreat defeated and depleted.

But those days are no more.

Sure, we still encounter public meltdowns, but these days I am more equipped, he has learnt better coping mechanisms and I have learnt to read his vital signs and know when it’s time to leave and on most occasions – either redirect him or get out before the explosion occurs.

By mentally giving myself a talking to and choosing to look at the progress, I am able to see just how far we’ve all come instead of allowing the current “hard” to overwhelm me.

4. Autism has shown me than I am stronger that I would have ever believed and a lot tougher than I ever gave myself credit for.

I have experienced very high highs and extremely low lows. I have watched my child struggle to talk, to breathe, to eat, to sleep, to socialise, to learn, to ‘fit in’, to dress himself and to just survive and that does something to you.

That destroys a part of your heart. It is SO HARD to watch a piece of you battle constantly and be unable to take their pain away.

I have fought the government, schools, teachers, doctors, specialists, other parents and friends and I haven’t always won but through these challenges I have learned that I AM ENOUGH.

Because enough doesn’t mean that my house is always spotless. Enough doesn’t mean that I will always keep my cool and never yell at my kids.
Enough doesn’t mean that my marriage is perfect. And enough certainly doesn’t mean that I have got it all together, but enough means (by definition) “as much as required.”

‘Enough’ means to me, that though there’s rarely any of me left over at the end of each day – my kids are fed, they are healthy and for the most part – they are happy. Taking on board the concept that ‘I am enough’ has brought me such freedom and peace.

And lastly;

5. Autism has allowed me to grow into the mother that I am today.

I had to make the decision years ago to either sink or swim because autism clearly wasn’t going anywhere. So I threw myself into learning whatever I could about how my boy’s brains are wired so that I could approach mothering them from an educated and informed position. I came into this knowing nothing about autism and had to make the choice to either be an involved parent, or leave my ill-equipped kids to navigate this scary world on their own. As I wrote earlier; I am not motivated or organised by nature but autism has given me the opportunity to develop these skills and become a better and less selfish person. You cannot be a good parent of any child if you continue to put yourself first and this was a hard lesson for me to learn but I am SO glad that I did.

 

Winning The Race..

marathonI originally wrote this is a post on my Facebook Page and decided to post it here as well so that I could find it at a later date if I ever wanted to read it again .

While I was away, I spent some time with a lady who pretty much helped raise me. She is my Mum’s best friend and her husband went to school with my Dad so we all go back a VERY long way. She has known me my entire life and has always put REALLY good things into my life.

Well anyway, last week, I sat opposite her in a beautiful cafe having afternoon tea which turned into dinner, on the water one night – just the two of us – and we talked and talked and talked about EVERYTHING and nothing. We laughed, we joked and I cried.

I cried a LOT!

I sobbed about decisions that I’ve made recently, I expressed regret at pushing certain people out of my life and also lamented keeping some others in longer than I should have. I worried aloud that I was screwing my kids up and told her how much I hated myself for becoming a yelling, emotional, basket case of a mother. I told her that I didn’t know who I was anymore and wished I could go back about 12 months in time to have a do-over.

And she continued to listen without judgment and allowed me to get it all out.

I cried a LOT more still, and then after I’d sobbed my heart out to her she offered me an extremely sound piece of advice that I took away with me and have been drawing on it almost every day since.

She said:

“Fiona, we are all running our own race. Some of us cruise along at an even pace and appear to be taking everything in our stride while others, like you, feel as though they are constantly running uphill in the wrong direction all the while struggling for breath and wondering if you’ll even make it out alive. And that’s sometimes just our own perception because the reality is that everyone struggles. But sometimes your race may actually BE tougher and more gruelling than other peoples but that’s only ever going to be a seasonal thing.

But the beauty of having our own individual race is that although the finish line comes earlier for some people (we were talking about the passing of my Dad and her son), there is no-one else in YOUR race so there’s only ever going to be one winner and NO loser”.

She continued:

“The other people in your life – the ones who run alongside you – are not in the same race as you. They are running their OWN race with their own challenges and their finish line may come before or after yours but remember that you are not supposed to get the same results or finish times as those people.
Their race is not YOUR race.
You will never know when the finish line is ahead so all you can do is strap on your joggers, keep your mind and body as healthy as possible and keep running. You WILL reach the end of your race at the exact time that you’re supposed to and you will come first in your race. YOU WILL WIN because this is a race you cannot lose.”

And there you have it. Her words have helped me SO much that I just thought I’d share them here in the hope that she can touch another life like she did mine.