A few months ago, I watched a home video on Facebook. It really disturbed me, and to this day, it still weighs on my mind.
It was Christmas time, and the family was gathered in Grandma’s living room. There were untouchable trinkets EVERYWHERE (because, well, it’s Grandma’s house).
Santa was also there to visit with the children, and a little girl was sitting on his lap. In the background, I could hear a boy crying.
I couldn’t see the child, but I gathered that he was autistic from the caption of the video. It read, (and I’m paraphrasing from memory)…
“…This shows how autism can steal away happy moments for our family…”
Now I try not to judge any parent. I know how hard it is when you plan or attend an event, and nothing goes right. Parenting can be like that.
But before blaming autism, we as parents need to take a good hard look at ourselves. Did we keep our child’s needs in mind when we planned the event?
Was the setting appropriate for my child? What was the goal of the event? Could that goal have been accomplished differently?
Is this an event for my child to enjoy, or is it for my own interest? Is Santa creepy, and is my kid smarter than me?
Allow me to put this in perspective with a slightly more comical (or horrifying) story…
When my older son was four, I took him with me to run some errands. I was picking up tins of gourmet peanuts for my mom so she could mail them out.
Because our order was so big, the receptionist asked us to pick it up in the factory building. So we drove over and went inside.
The factory was huge! There were burlap bags of loose peanuts stacked higher than my head.
I turned around and looked at my kid. He was as still as a statue and gasping for air.
Did I mention he was severely allergic to peanuts? Yes, I know. Mom Fail. Stop judging me.
I immediately took him outside, gave him his inhaler, and went to the house to give him a bath and burn (change) his clothes. He rebounded quickly.
But I was disappointed. My entire trip was ruined because of his peanut allergy. Running errands is really important to me. But instead, I had to stop everything and take care of him.
See what I did right there? ↑↑↑
My day wasn’t ruined because of his allergy. His day was ruined because of my poor planning. I didn’t have his specific needs in mind before rushing off to do my normal activities.
The same principle holds true when parenting an autistic child. Our children have specific needs. We as parents need to learn what those needs are, and make adjustments to accommodate them. Period.
Furthermore, I’ve learned that I can’t separate autism from my children. It’s an integral part of who they are. They’re autistic. It was important for me to understand this early, so that I didn’t damage their own self worth by complaining about “their autism.”
I know it can be confusing at first when your child is little. You (and your child) haven’t learned all the triggers and sensory needs quite yet. But you will in time. And yes, you will have parenting fails like me.
But in no way does that make it autism’s fault. Because in reality, we’re saying it’s our child’s fault. And that’s never true.
Since my twin’s were born, we’ve pretty much overhauled all of our activities and traditions. We do holidays differently. For instance, instead of watching the parade from the street, we hang out in a hotel room right above it.
We go on different outings. Our area (Hampton Roads, Virginia) has an active autism community with tons of activities. So we stick to the sensory friendly events where we know there’s no pressure.
And we only spend time with people who are on board with accommodating their needs.
Because that’s what parents are supposed to do – understand what their children need, and plan life accordingly.
And you know what? I love our new lifestyle (not that it’s always a walk in the park). I love our new (and tried and true) friends. And I love to see my children happy.
Follow our journey on Facebook at Not an Autism Mom. I’d love to see you there!