Mistakes I’ve Made as an Autism Parent
No parent is perfect. Making mistakes is part of being a mom or a dad. I can say that as an autism parent, I constantly worry about whether or not I am doing right by my son.
Am I providing him with the right therapies and services? Am I doing enough for him at home? Am I doing too little? Is he happy? These thoughts are always swirling around my head.
In addition to this, I worry about my parenting style and how I’m doing as a mom. Am I patient enough? Am I advocating enough? Are my goals for my son realistic? Am I a good mother?
I’ve come to realize that the key is to learn enough from each mistake so that I may go on to learn and grow as a parent and help my child along the way.
Here’s a look at some of the mistakes I’ve made as an autism mom.
Trying to hide his diagnosis
My son was diagnosed with autism at the tender age of two. He was so young and tiny and at the time, many of his behaviours could be attributed to his age. Most people were none the wiser when he would scream because he didn’t have language or spin objects wildly and non-stop because he was stimming (stimming, better known as self-stimulatory behaviour which includes repetitive behaviours such as spinning objects or repeatedly flipping a light switch).
I was in no rush to tell people about his autism. “It’s absolutely nobody’s business” is what I would constantly tell my husband. I wasn’t embarrassed, but it wasn’t something I was eager to share.
However, as my son started to get older, his lack of language and social communication skills were evident. I couldn’t hide behind his age anymore, it was very apparent that he was different.
After two long years, I started to open up to friends and family about his autism. It was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, but it was necessary and for the most part, I’m glad I did.
Constantly wondering if he will ‘outgrow’ his diagnosis
Someone would always feel the need to share their autism “success” stories. “I know someone who has autism but doesn’t anymore” or “I know a 10 year old boy and you would never know he’s autistic, he’s so normal!” and “my son has changed so much over the course of a year, he’s a different person.” I’ve also heard “it goes away” – that one kills me.
Hearing these stories would give me so much hope for my son’s future. Each school year, I would examine and evaluate his progress but he wasn’t making the gains I hoped he would. He wasn’t “outgrowing” his autism. He still had many of the textbook autistic characteristics like hand-flapping, spinning objects and delayed language.
I have learned that one cannot and does not outgrow autism. Autism is a life-long disorder that grows with a child and into adulthood.
As the saying goes, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
Trying to fix him
For years, I tried to “fix” my son. I hired every therapist imaginable to get the wheels in motion to achieve the goals I had set out for him. I knew exactly which behaviours I wanted to extinguish and nothing was going to stop me.
I relied heavily on his ABA therapists to work their magic and ‘cure’ his odd behaviours. When something didn’t work and my son wasn’t mastering the goals I had set out for him, I would often put the blame on the professionals. How crazy is that?
Now that I am older, wiser and A LOT more educated, I know that I can’t fix my son because he isn’t broken. He is who he is and I have come to accept this. I love him more than anything in the world and all I can do is continue to love him and raise him to be a good person.
He’ll figure out the rest.
Doubting my child’s abilities
I wrote a blog awhile back entitled “Removing Can’t Out of My Vocabulary.” I always assumed that my son couldn’t do anything independently.
Boy, was I wrong.
I have learned that my son can do anything, and I mean anything. He can ride a bike, play piano, dress himself, draw, read, write, sing and so much more.
I always make a point to have my son do tasks for himself because he needs to be challenged. Although he may not always want to comply, I ensure he follows through. It would be easier for me to do everything for him, but how will he learn?
I no longer doubt his abilities. I push him to try new and sometimes scary things, because I know he can do anything he puts his mind to.
Insisting he only do age-appropriate things
My son is almost six years old and up until about four or five months ago, he was still watching toddler and pre-school YouTube videos such as ABC’s, colours, shapes, etc. I would always try to encourage him to watch whatever the latest cartoon fad his classmates were into such as Paw Patrol or Peppa Pig. He had absolutely no interest in these shows and he’d always revert back to watching his preferred “babyish” YouTube videos. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled about his viewing habits.
All of his classmates are playing with Star Wars or Ninja Turtles toys, so I bought him a Spiderman figurine thinking I could get him to play with it. Not only did he not want the Spiderman toy, he was happy playing with the box!
Most kids his age are into Lego, Playmobil, or Hot Wheels, not my son. A year ago this would have bothered me, but I’ve come to better understand him and he’s just not there yet.
Everything will happen when he’s ready, on his own schedule.
Always feeling disappointed
This is a tough one for me to admit but it’s true.
With disappointment comes frustration and with frustration comes resentment. I would compare my son to other children, which is a big no no, but I did. When he wouldn’t join in on an activity with his peers or when he would have a meltdown in front children that were behaving, I couldn’t hide my disappointment. My expectations were highly unrealistic and fast forward to present day, I feel terribly about it.
I couldn’t grasp the fact that his autism prevented him from doing all of the things I thought he should be doing. The things I wanted him to do, the things I expected him to do.
I’m no longer disappointed. In fact, I’m proud of my boy. If he doesn’t want to participate in an activity or play the way I want him to, then so be it. His brain functions differently and I accept that.
Having high expectations of others
I was nervous about sharing my son’s autism diagnosis with friends and family. I had many concerns about how others would react and I worried about losing friends and being excluded from functions. My biggest concern was that my son would be judged by those who didn’t have a clue about autism and I couldn’t bear the thought of this.
My husband reassured me that none of the above would happen. He strongly felt that the people closest to us would accept our son and show us their unconditional support.
My wonderful husband is an eternal optimist, I’m thankful that he can see the good in almost anyone and anything. I call myself a ‘realist.’ I’m not pessimistic but I am not always quick to see the positive qualities in people. I had my doubts but he made a lot of sense.
Fast forward and I was (mostly) right. The phone calls inviting us to playdates stopped, so did the birthday party invitations. The regular phone calls and emails from family members started dwindling down to once every few months and rarely did they inquire about my son. Friends I once considered close, suddenly disappeared with no explanation.
My biggest fears had come to fruition. We had high expectations and we thought that we’d receive a greater show of support, acceptance and love.
It just goes to show that hard times will always reveal true friends.
Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t. The point is, we love our children and we do our very best to ensure that they’re taken care of. The beauty of mistakes is that we learn from them, and improve our tomorrow.