September 23, 2013

How To Parent Like An Autistic Parent

I see some benefits to being an Autistic mom, so I'm sharing my amazing wisdom. lol. You can't change your brain, but you can change your behaviour.
Wanna parent like me? Give these ideas a try:

1) Have a kid for the right reasons

A child is not an extension of yourself. A child is not there to love you, to complete you, to help you work out your childhood issues, to care for you when you get old or to be your friend. Have a kid because you like the idea of raising a new person to be the best person they can be, without any tethers or expectations on your end. Your job is to help this being reach its full potential, whatever that is, and to love them like there's no tomorrow. When it comes time, let them go be themselves on their own, but leave the door of love and support open when they need it. When you are old and frail, you may be lucky enough to have them care for you well, but their only real job, should be to be happy, well-adjusted adults with all the tools they need to reach their destiny. Your ego has no part in it.
If you're looking for something to love you, spoil and dress up, get a dog.

2) Have some empathy

Neurotypicals sure talk big talk about having empathy, but can be really lousy at it! It should be noted that Autistics don't lack all types of empathy (and yes, there is more than one type!), just cognitive empathy. In other words, we can't read minds, so we can't predict what people will do next. It doesn't help that a lot of people lie and say one thing, then do another. It gets tiring and confusing trying to figure y'all out! Anyway, we Autistics have a whole lot of affective and compassionate empathy, maybe too much. When someone says, "I feel your pain" I can really feel other people's pain. It can be hard to shake off someone else's strong emotions. You should have seen me in bereavement group, bawling for everyone else's losses like they were my own.

Anyway, grow more compassionate empathy for your child. I find NT people often project feelings or underhanded motivations onto their kids that aren't there. Children can be manipulative underhanded little snots now and then (and guess who they learn it from if that's the case....) but the vast majority of the time, their needs and wants are very simple, guided by simple thought processes. They are not actively trying to annoy you. They simply don't know of a better way to get their needs met, especially if you're in the habit of ignoring them in the first place.

Infants/babies are even more innocent. They are not up screaming at night because they hate your guts and want to see you suffer. They are only trying to communicate. And if you have a bit more empathy and see things from their point of view a bit more, you'll have less screaming and frustration in the first place.

I don't understand why people have babies and then seem to want to spend so much time away from them. The child is born helpless and they take it and put it alone in a crib, far from the scent, sound and touch of the mommy it was just with for the last 9 months. Doesn't that sound traumatizing? Imagine being plopped into this bright, loud, scary world - no one speaks your language and the only familiar thing to you keeps moving away from you, sticking you in a stroller and pushing you around? Actually, being in a bright, loud, scary world is often how Autistics see it, so maybe that's why I can empathize with babies!
I or my husband, held our son pretty much constantly as a baby because I 1) didn't want him far from me, and 2) didn't want him to feel abandoned and confused. He still cried a lot, but he did it in someone's loving arms, never alone.

My point with all this is from the beginning, trust your baby just wants to be with you and be understood, and don't read anything else into the relationship.

3) Listen for "I Love You" in other ways

Spend more time saying, "I love you" to your child and really showing it, and less time waiting for, prompting, forcing or expecting them to say it. If they want to say the words, at some point they will say them. But keep your eyes open, because they say it hundreds of times a day without you even noticing! When they are in unfamiliar territory and they cling to your leg, that's "I love you." When they're not sure of something and they look over at you to see your facial expression, that's "I love you." When they shove food in your face, that's "I love you." When they parrot back every single thing you say, that's "I love you." When they cry when you pick them up from daycare, that's a really big "I love you." When you sing and for one brief moment they stop, or sway or turn towards your voice, that's "I love you." I could go on, but there are so many ways.
Trust that your child loves you and does so all the time. Again, it's not about your ego. Hearing the words should not make or break you. Instead of forcing your language on them, learn theirs. Now that's love.

4) Respect their bodily autonomy

This is getting longer than I thought, so I might do a part two, if anyone is interested. Let me know in the comments!

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