What Not to Say to a Parent of a Child With Autism.

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I was always the girl who didn’t care what people thought of me. I liked being different. I liked not following the crowd. Then I became a mother. I have never felt so judged or scrutinized for all the things by all the people, in all the places.  I too had many lengthy talks with my husband about how we were going to raise our children. We had seven years as a married couple before God blessed us with our oldest. Seven years is a long time to discuss parenting conundrums and use others’ bad booty kids as examples of how we would not parent.  Ok fine, it was mostly me. Husband loved these conversations as much as he loves root canals but my persistence for late night talks usually result in an apprehensive listener. I am the queen of these ridiculous conversations. They may start off like, “If our daughter comes home 15 minutes after curfew, what would you do?” Remember we were still childless at this time. I may even throw in a, “If I was addicted to cocaine for 10 years and my dad was in the Mexican Mafia, would you still have married me?” Ahhhhh poor husband….

I love to plan. It’s my way of feeling like I have some type of control. And I loved to think of any and all scenarios they may or may not arise as parents to see if we were on the same page. You never know when your  teenage son’s head may or may not get stuck in the bars of the window when attempting to sneak out. I mean we would need to be a united force with a punishment. I think the saying goes, “We plan, and God laughs.” This could not be more true than when I became a mother.  Almost none of my super mommy skills worked. The unsolicited advice that came from the moms that had acquired the real super mommy skills were in such abundance, it kept me secluded from the world for far longer than necessary. I just couldn’t handle another stare, another look of disapproval, another well meaning mom offering the cure. I resigned to the fact that my child was just not ready for public, of any kind.

Now, I have said some pretty ignorant things in my 35 years. Seriously, an alarming number of dumb things have spewed from my larger than normal mouth.  However, nothing gets me hotter under the collar than parents judging my mad skills…and I don’t even wear collared shirts… Please understand, this title is misleading. It appears to only concern parents or caregivers of children with autism.  Let’s just stop the insanity with all of the parenting high horses. Let me give you a few examples:

  • You fix what everyone else eats and, when he/she gets hungry enough, they will eat.”   This is a super favorite one in our house, until we realized our child would starve. For the same reasons that he doesn’t have the same perception of hot and cold, he does not have the same perception of hunger and full. He has swam in icy water and we have to be very careful with the water temperature in the shower because he will burn his skin. He’s the kid with a short sleeved shirt in the middle of a snowstorm. He graciously puts on a coat after I beg and plead and tell him everyone will think momma is a terrible mother for freezing my children…bless him. I don’t need any more ammunition. Eat this or eat nothing? No problem. My child would starve. We also have to watch how much he eats because he doesn’t have a “full sensation” until he feels sick. So yes, I make different meals in my house. No I don’t make my kid eat whatever I cook for the rest of the family. Trust me on this one, this battle is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. I mean this in the most sugary sweet southern tea sort of way but, You don’t know my life.  Yes, you just saw me feed my child cornbread for dinner….move along.

 

  • Nothing a good old fashioned spanking wouldn’t fix.”  For the love… Remember that lack of sensation thing? Spanking has zero affect on a child that doesn’t feel pain appropriately. Oh, I’m not spanking hard enough, you say? Beating your child is generally frowned upon. Trust me, I always said I would spank my children. However, I was given a ninja as a child that would make an excellent UFC fighter. Please pray for his safety…

 

  • You really shouldn’t let your child sleep with you in your bed.”  I can’t even with this one. He has had problems with sleeping since he was born. He will not sleep unless he gets melatonin and this is not an exaggeration, hence the 3 am trips to Walmart to pick up a new bottle, proving ‘one night will be fine without it’ was WRONG. He has fallen asleep in public less than 5 times in his life. The first was in his stroller, at the State Fair. He was 2. Add anxiety on top of these issues makes for a less than optimal bed time routine. If he wanted to sleep on the roof on a bed made of slug trails, I’m in.  You do what you have to do to live…and sleep.

 

  • Just take away (insert tangible privilege) and he will stop.” Let me explain. My child wants to please you, me , his friends, etc. His brain does not work on the same wavelength. He doesn’t want to be in trouble any more than I want to catch up on my laundry but sometimes, it is not under his control. Does that give him a free for all excuse? Absolutely not. Punishments are not black and white. You mean what you say and you say what you mean but you also learn to adjust and learn what works, then mourn when it stops working two days later. This is an absolute guarantee. I am super glad (and slightly jealous) that these techniques work for your little angel, but it’s ok that we don’t all operate the same. It actually makes it worse that autism is not a facial expression. You see, you can’t tell by looking at him that anything is amiss.  You can’t see heart conditions either, however they still exist…just saying.

 

  • Just put him in his room and shut the door until he can calm down.”  Last year, our move was the hardest for our oldest. Moving, loss of normalcy and routine, a death in the family, all led to what I affectionately refer to as the epitome of hell. These meltdowns were not simply tantrums fueled by not getting his way. Actually, he was never trying to gain something when they began. His extreme terror of not being able to see me caused what looked like a need for an exorcist. There was bloodshed and it was heartbreaking. A six year old should never experience this type of fear.

 

Psychology and development are not pure sciences. Not only are there always outliers and anomalies, but as intricate as God has made our brains, only proves the vast number of differences that need to be taken into consideration when raising a child.  I guess what I’m saying is, “You do you, Boo!” In a perfect world all parents would be there cheering each other on like the dude with wings in the red bull commercial (look it up, it’s hilarious).  I am super excited for you that you have it all figured out. But for the rest of us, we are doing the best we can with what we have been given.  And I promise I am just as horrified when my son tells you your breath stinks.  This is not a testament to my parenting skills. Maybe just grab a mint and move on. We are working on it. Also, maybe remember that children are not trained monkeys. I grew up in a generation where children were seen and not heard. Those children that were not heard did not have autism. I am the first to say that I don’t have all the answers. But I can guarantee that I have tried everything, this is to include lots of crying, praying, and wine. Don’t judge.

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