AUTISTIC MOTHER |Purple Ella
How to Be an Autistic Parent
Anyone can tell you that parenting is a difficult task. When you are autistic, struggling with sensory issues and executive dysfunction and anxiety and more, it becomes even more of a challenge.However, even though parenting is something that many people struggle with, it can be quite rewarding. While parenting can be incredibly hard sometimes, and the job is never truly "over", remember that eventually, you'll be able to look back at your children and be proud of how you raised them - regardless of the fact that you're autistic.
Assess the situation.It's best to be able to take a look at the situation and see what's occurring. Are you not a parent yet, but want to be? Did you already have children while knowing that you're autistic? Or have you had children and just received an autism diagnosis? No situation will be exactly the same, so it's important to analyze it closely.
Understand that being autistic doesn't make you a bad parent.There are many autistic parents out there, some of whom are amazing at parenting and treat their kids wonderfully. There's nothing wrong with being autistic, and just because you're autistic doesn't mean that you're automatically a terrible parent, or that you won't be able to parent right. In fact, autistic people can bewonderfulparents, since they've grown up with a unique perspective on life.
- Parenting is a slippery slope, and sometimes, good parents make bad decisions while trying to look out for their child. This doesn't make you a bad parent, either. This is something that applies toallparents, regardless of whether they're autistic or not!
- There is a point where certain methods of parenting can cross into "bad" parenting. For example, many parents understand that when their child becomes a teenager, they're going to be curious about things like alcohol and drugs. While a parent can't stop a teenager from engaging in drinking or doing drugs on their own accord, something like supplying liquor to a teen is widely considered "bad parenting", as it's against the law.
- Another concept of "bad parenting" is forcing things so that you have total control over your child. As a parent, you do have to have some control over your child, especially if they're young. However, this refers to things like teaching your child to behave appropriately in public,nothow they dress, act, or where they go. Trying to control every aspect of your child's life is just going to damage the relationship between you and your child.
Talk to your children.If you have just received an autism diagnosis, or if you've already known and your child or children are old enough to understand, it may be a good idea to tell your child or children about it. Be sure to use language that they would understand, and explain that there's nothing wrong with being autistic. Be open to answering questions, as well - if your children don't know what autism is or have minimal knowledge of it, they might ask you about it.
- For example, you could talk to your younger children and say, "When I went to go see the doctor, the doctor told me I had something called autism spectrum disorder. This makes me different from other people. I hear things louder than other people hear them, and I have trouble with understanding what people are feeling unless they tell me."
- Explain the symptoms that autistic people can have, which ones pertain to you specifically, and how these symptoms can affect you. For example, if you're sensitive to loud noises, a good explanation could be, "Because I hear things louder than other people do, I can get upset if there are too many loud noises," or if you have trouble reading people's emotions, "Because I can't tell what people are feeling, if you're sad about something, I might not notice, and I need you to tell me."
- Make it clear that autism isn't bad! Emphasize your strengths from being autistic and talk about these. For example, if you're good at keeping everyone's desk organized, you can point this out.
Prepare yourself for awkward questions.Regardless of when your child or children learn that you're autistic, if they have no knowledge of autism themselves, they might ask some strange questions! The younger the child is, and/or the less knowledge your child has on autism, the stranger the questions can get. Be prepared that some of the questions your child or children asks may make you feel hurt, or make you feel confused as to why your child would even come up with it (such as "Do autistic people have bellybuttons, too?").
- Your child may ask, "If you're autistic, can I get it too?" Explain to them that autism can't be caught like a cold. There's some scientific suggestions that autism is caused genetically, so you can try explaining this to your child in words they can understand.
Balancing Your Needs
Watch for competing sensory needs if you have autistic children.In some cases, autism can run in the family, and you may have a child who is also autistic - which can cause difficulties with sensory stimulation or sensory overload. If one person is a sensory seeker and the other finds it painful, this can be very difficult to negotiate.Brainstorm solutions so that both people can be comfortable.
- For example, if your daughter needs echolalia or music to focus and you need silence when overwhelmed, you can use earplugs, and offer headphones to your daughter. You can also compromise on a white noise generator, or noise-canceling headphones, which sometimes have a white noise switch.
- Involve your autistic child or children in the discussion; don't just come up with ideas on your own. This way, you can give and receive direct feedback on the ideas being suggested, and you may be surprised by what your child or children come up with!
Consider taking time off.Babysitters, daycare, or respite care can give you time to recharge without needing to constantly focus on your children's needs. Fatigue (sensory-related, executive-dysfunction-related, and otherwise) is a serious issue.It's important to take time for yourself, especially when you're autistic, so that you aren't at a frequent risk of dealing with sensory overload or problems with executive dysfunction.
- See if your children could spend a day or two at a relative's house, such as a grandparents' house. Your relatives can bond more with your children, and you can take some time off.
- On a smaller scale, give yourself relaxation time during nap times and once your children are in bed for the night.
Teach children to respect boundaries from an early age.If you are in sensory overload, on the verge of a meltdown, et cetera, you'll need quiet both for your sake and the sake of your children. Make it clear that the phrase "I need quiet time" is an important one.
- Try setting aside an area of the house (e.g. in your bedroom) where you can retreat when overwhelmed. Make it clear to your children that when you are in there, you need to be left alone. They can get similar corners for themselves.
- If you're raising your children with a non-autistic partner or spouse, request to them that when you're overwhelmed, they watch over the kids while you go to your quiet area. It may be a good idea to come up with a single phrase or a hand signal to communicate, "I need you to take over while I go calm down".
Utilizing Your Strengths
Autism isn't all bad, and you have notable strengths which may help you be a better parent.
Use your skill with systems to organize a helpful routine.Routine is good for your children, and it can provide great stability to you as well. Try creating a picture schedule to figure out how things go.
- If the routine is unbalanced one day for some reason - for example, if your child woke up late and is going to be late to school or soccer practice as a result - don't get angry with your child. While it can be easy to get upset with your child for disrupting the routine, doing so will upset your child, too - whether they're upset that you yelled at them or upset by the fact that they disappointed you. Everyone, including your children, makes mistakes and some children can have trouble with time management, especially at a young age.
Use your observance to spot potential problems.Many autistic people are deeply tuned in to their surroundings, and you may be able to better spot issues from sharp corners to crabby children in the next room.Observe what might be a problem for your child, such as unprotected power outlets, nails or screws on the floor, or a bookshelf not attached to the wall, and find time to fix these issues.
- Don't "helicopter" over a potential problem. There's a fine line between trying to keep your child out of danger and becoming so fixated on a potential (or even nonexistent) problem that you don't focus on more glaring issues. If you have a child that's using the internet, for example, it's okay to take precautions by blocking sites that you know might disturb your child, but constantly monitoring what they're doing online is almost never necessary unless you have reasonable suspicion that they're engaging in dangerous activities, such as bullying others or blogging that they're self-injuring.
Use your deep focus and researching skills to help you learn about parenting.There are many parenting books and websites available, from 500-page manuals to colorfully-illustrated wikiHow articles. Reading can help you learn about parts of parenting that stymie you.
Recognize that you have a special touch with your autistic children (if you have any).It's common for autistic parents to have one or more autistic children, and you can relate better to them, because you have personal experience with the same differences and challenges.This can make it easier to understand something your child is going through - for example, if they have trouble making friends or socializing - and maybe offer advice if they request it.
- Since no autistic person is alike, you can't expect to have experienced everything your child experiences, especially if your child has different traits of autism than you do (e.g. your child communicating nonverbally, if you communicate verbally). However, it can still make it easier to understand your child. (Do you lose the ability to speak if you're overwhelmed, for example?)
Talk to your children's other caregivers, if any.Be open about your needs, and where you'll need support.A partner or spouse who's aware of your autism, for example, will have a much easier time understanding why you're getting upset and leaving the room when your child is throwing a particularly noisy tantrum, rather than doing something about that tantrum.
- It may be best to be cautious about who you tell about your autism outside of people who you know will accept you. As autism can be quite stigmatized and has many misconceptions associated with it, you may just want to explain your symptoms, and not that you're autistic. For example: "Dad, I just want to let you know that I might need you to help watch over Jason more often. Sometimes I have trouble with moving from one task to the next, and I'm trying to learn ways to deal with that, but in the meantime, I think I need more help."
Network with other autistic parents.They have personal experience with the same issues and questions you face, and can offer advice and support. For example, if your child crying causes you sensory overload, other autistic parents can offer advice for reducing the sensory stimulation while still caring for your child.
Find a mentor.Look to relatives, friends, disabled people, club/church members, and others who can act as parenting role models and givers of advice. Parenting is a challenging task, and having someone help you learn to manage it can be a fantastic resource.
- If you have good relationships with your immediate family members, try asking them for advice. Your neurotypical brother with neurotypical children might not seem like someone you'd ask for parenting advice, but he could have some ideas for helping you parent your own children, especially if your children aren't autistic.
Try a parenting class.The class can teach skills in a variety of areas, and can describe the "unwritten rules" that non-autistics absorb by osmosis.
Look for disability services.Help with cooking, cleaning, advocacy, respite care, and other issues may be available, depending on your region and income level.
Consider individual or family therapy.This can help you identify problems and come up with solutions. The therapist may also be able to offer advice on clear communication, as well as ways of handling other problems associated with autism, such as executive dysfunction.
- Good communication does not mean non-autistic communication. The goal is to communicate well in your own way, not try to pretend to be someone you are not.
- Be wary of harmful therapy techniques. If your therapist is trying to "cure" you and/or your autistic child or children of autism, or is trying to prevent you or your child from behaving in typical mannerisms associated with autism (such as non-harmful stimming or not making eye contact), stop the sessions and find a new therapist. Therapy isn't about "curing" autism, it's about learning to manage it, and a therapist shouldneversay otherwise.
Video: Mom Of Autistic Child Walks Through A Day With Her Son | TODAY
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