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.
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.