Set Them Free
I’ve always loved the saying, “If you love someone, set them free.” I used to relate it to heartbreak, which gives it a tinge of sadness but now, for me, there is another way to see it and that is the way in which I use it for myself as an individual and also a way in which I parent my kids. Not in a literal sense. Let me state clearly that I keep a very close eye on my kids, freedom to run amuck and do as they please is not the type of freedom I’m speaking of. I “set them free” in a more figurative sense, to allow them space to grow into the people they want to become. As a parent to Autistic children, that’s quite a challenge because the word on the street is that our kids shouldn’t be allowed the luxury of that type of freedom.
It’s unfortunate, but more often than not an autism diagnosis and its accompanying paperwork fills a heart with fear, a head with worry over “missed milestones” and “closed windows,” and a calendar with therapies, interventions, support groups, and more.
As an advocate I see parents struggle emotionally and financially to ensure nothing is missed, no stone left unturned, hoping to ensure their child will fit with peers early on, employing whatever therapies necessary to erase as many “behaviors” as possible so their child will not be seen as Autistic. My heart aches for these children and for the pressure their parents must feel to conform to the rigid idea of “normal” that society pushes upon us.
I believe that being Autistic myself has played a key part in my not worrying over what others think about my kids or how I raise them. When it comes to autism, therapy is the buzzword, and I’ll admit we tried a few here and there but in the end decided against.
It seems no one was interested in my kids being themselves, they only wanted them to work really hard to be like someone else’s kids.
That’s not what I wanted for them, and I don’t want my kids growing up thinking they have to stop being who they are naturally so that others will like them. There will always be those who don’t accept them as they are and as I have explained to my kids, those are the people that don’t get to be a part of our lives. It’s their loss, not ours.
From Mimic To Autistic
Although I grew up undiagnosed, I didn’t have too many problems fitting in with the crowd and have my older brother to thank for paving that road for me. However, I grew up knowing on the inside that I never really fit in so I just observed and mimicked and found my place in a group that would have me. But as happy as I appeared on the outside, I was sad and miserable on the inside working so hard to fit in and to be someone I didn’t understand or know how to be. For me, the idea of being myself was scary and it led to years of depression well into adulthood. That’s something I didn’t want my kids to go through. And I know I can’t protect them from everything, nor would I want to because some of our greatest lessons are learned from our hardest falls. That’s part of being free, too, learning how to get back up or to ask for help when you need it. It’s not my job to save them from all the hard times, even as much as I’d like to, but it is my job to arm them with self-knowledge and acceptance so they can help themselves. And wherever they happen to be at any particular moment in their lives, top, bottom, or somewhere in between, I hope they will be in that place knowing who they are instead of trying to be who someone else thinks they should be.
A daunting task when one considers that most therapies for Autistic children are designed to make them appear less like themselves and more like non-autistic children.
My kids and I talk very openly about disability, the positives as well as the negatives because that’s a big part of it: the freedom in speaking openly about autism and other disabilities without shame or embarrassment. We do not work to hide our disabilities, even the invisible ones, because they are part of who we are as individuals. The best I can do is make sure my kids grow up knowing they are loved and accepted just as they are, stimming, scripting, flapping and all!
No Super Mom Here: Being the Mom MY Kids Need
Growing up I knew I was different. It wasn’t until my son was diagnosed with autism that the pieces began to come together. I was diagnosed a short time later and then my oldest daughter after me, and let me say parenting got a heck of a lot easier after that! And it wasn’t the diagnoses of my children that clinched it, it was my own because I finally stopped working myself to the bone observing and mimicking all the other Moms.
I wasn’t worried what these women thought of me I was worried that my kids wouldn’t see me as one of the Super Moms!
When it was just the kids and me I was awesome wherever we were, but when we got in group settings: kids’ birthday parties, school functions, and play dates, I was always in last place (or so I thought). I couldn’t keep up with those women! They were three-ring circus leading, crafting, face-painting, treat-baking dynamos. Holy cow, how could they do it? How could I?! The answer was, without a lot of stress, anxiety and hidden meltdowns, I couldn’t. At home with my kids we found comfort in just being together or in close proximity to one another. We could grab a book or a spot at the computer and keep to ourselves if we wished. It was like a well-run library. Calm, peaceful and orderly we could do! And just like my kids, I didn’t like the crowds or the noise. And until my youngest came along, foisting her imagination on us all, we didn’t see the point in dress-up or crafts or anything else that caused a mess.
Learning I was Autistic helped me see that I am not a bad Mom because I hated doing crafts, dress-up time, and three-ring circus-like events, it helped me see I am a different kind of Mom.
And it just so happens that it is helping my kids have a much calmer more autism-friendly childhood because we do everything within their comfort zone, which luckily for me, looks a lot like my comfort zone. And I am a heroine to them because of it! I always give them the option of whether or not to go to parties or play dates because I didn’t like going to those things. I didn’t want to assume that because they’re children they would automatically love them, or because they are Autistic they would automatically hate them, so the decision is theirs – sometimes we go (yikes!) and sometimes we don’t. Being Autistic and having many of the same characteristics as my kids, such as the need to stim and the need for chunks of lone decompression time, as well as the various needs that go along with having sensory integration disorder, has kept me more in tune with them and headed off many meltdowns before they could get started.
In learning to understand and accept the many differences that come with being an Autistic person and knowing what it was like trying to force myself into a mold I couldn’t possibly fit, I was able to be a better Mom. Loving myself as an Autistic person set me free and I want that same freedom for my kids. I can happily say that for the past 14 years, having allowed my kids the freedom to be their Autistic selves, I have witnessed first-hand their growing confidence and self-acceptance, and a comfort in their own skin that it took me more than three decades to find. It is with much love and admiration for my children and who they are becoming that…
I found freedom in Autistic parenting.