My Son’s Autism Makes Me a Better Mom

Mother’s Day is here.  And every year, this “holiday” is always a time when I remember why I’m so grateful that I have a son who has Autism.

Grateful?  Yes, grateful.  Through all of the challenges we’ve already faced and the unknown that lies ahead, I feel grateful.  If it wasn’t for my son and this different world we find ourselves in, I think I would have been a TERRIBLE mother.  Let me explain.

Root problems:  I’m a control freak, a perfectionist.  I’m convinced that if I’d had typical children, I would have tried to control everything and expect perfection in everything.  And I would have made myself and my family miserable in the process.  My son has given me so many gifts through these challenges.  I’ll just describe a few.

Forget Perfection

When my son was a toddler, “perfection” was the opposite of the world I was living in.  One of the biggest challenges that I had to overcome was letting go of what others thought of me.  For example, I remember being in a child’s furniture store.  Early on, I got very good at entering a new place and finding the “triggers” that would set my son off so I could try to avoid them.  But I wasn’t always successful.  We walked into the store and I saw a wooden train set on a child size table.  There was another little boy playing with it.  I knew my son would barge in, take over and make this kid cry.  OR, if this kids was bold enough to stand up for himself, my son would have a melt down.  We successfully avoided the train table and moved to the back of the store.  I watched my son like a hawk but during a split second distraction, he found his way to the table.  He tried to grab the train.  The parents of the child were annoyed.  I intervened, calmly saying, “this little boy was playing with this first”.  Let the melt down begin!

At this point in my journey as a mother of a child with Autism, I’d already given up the notion that I would ever be the perfect parent of the perfect child.  I adjusted my goal to this:  I will be a parent who is handling my situation the very best that I can.  If other people see me as out of control as my son, judgment will come.  But if they see that I’m handling a difficult situation the best way possible, I may get empathy instead.

The parents of the little boy with the train actually wanted to give the train over to my son.  I calmly picked up my son, tantrum and all, and said, “Thank you so much but I don’t want to reward his bad behavior by letting him have the train.”  I remained calm and I left the store.  People turned to see this screaming child.  My job was to stay in control and be calm.

Believe

I’m a planner.  I’m a program manager.  I think if I had typical kids, I would have had “a plan” for them as well.  Early on, many professionals told me of things that my son would never be able to do.  And this information was just not acceptable to me.  I couldn’t make a “life plan” on something so negative.  Coming from my project manager perspective, I plan projects, identify risks and come up with mitigation plans.  As I looked at my son’s projected future, I was overwhelmed.

I had to throw out any semblance of having a plan and just take things one day at a time.  “He’ll never learn to read.”  Well, we need to try.  One day at a time.  He not only reads but he communicates with me via text message now.  “He may never be independent.”  As I write this, he just started a load of his own laundry.  He gets up to his own alarm, prepares his own lunches, and gets himself to his own school bus on time.  “A main stream classroom may not be enough. He may need to attend a special school for kids with Autism.” He’s in a regular middle school, managing a schedule of 6 classes with 6 different teachers on his own.  He can use a calendar, follow a schedule and learn routines.  Sure, many of those classes are special education classes but Guitar and PE are typical classes that are opportunities for him to be around typical peers, learn from them and be successful. We set a goal and we BELIEVE he will get there.  If you don’t believe something will happen, it won’t.  Sure, we’ve had failures.  But we’ve had far more successes.

Do Your Best

My son has Autism.  My daughter has dyslexia.  4.0’s and straight A’s are likely NOT part of our future.  So we focus on doing our best.  Math tests, piano recitals, guitar recitals, book reports.  We focus on doing our best.  And then when the grades come, if we know we did our best, we celebrate it.  And then talk about how we can do better next time.  And great grades DO come every now and then.

I must admit, when I’m around a parent in a more “typical” situation who is getting upset with the school or a teacher (as opposed to their child) because their child got a B+ instead of an A, or because their child didn’t get the lead in the school play, I feel bad for them.  Have they lost sight of the bigger picture because of this crazy world that we live in?  Parents of typical kids have some crazy and unrealistic pressures on them.  I can’t be part of that world so I’m not swallowed up by it.  Typical parents have to work hard to NOT be swallowed alive by it.

I’ll always be a control freak and long for perfection.  I’ll always wish I had a long term plan I was working towards.  But the severity of dealing with Autism was what I needed to get some perspective, to get a clue, to focus on today and appreciate the successes as they come.  And I’m a better person for it.  I’m so thankful to be a mom, for all the things my children teach me, everyday.

Happy Mother’s Day

 

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