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Learning to Parent an Autistic Child: And understanding that sometimes it all goes wrong

I’ve been there, done it, got the T-shirt, and came out of the other side tempered by the fires of life.

That was on a good day! In the last eighteen years, I have raised and am in the process of raising three children.

My eldest was diagnosed with moderate learning delays after years of fighting for help.

The doctors were always more focused on my middle child. He is the one who is autistic: the squeaky wheel and all that.

My two boys are only fourteen months apart, so as you can imagine, life was never dull.

My third child is a typical girl. She is eight going on eighteen. Just as a side note, she is the ‘normal’ one.

I use that term very loosely. I have always said that she is the one that’s going to put me in the ground.

Overall, I have eighteen years of experience in parenting children, both with additional needs and not. I have also worked in early childhood education and as a TA for additional needs children.

I have learned a plethora of other things through research, courses, and life, but let’s go with it. I’m still learning. You never really stop.

Where to begin?

First, I would like to start with a simple exercise. Take a deep breath and drop your shoulders. Then, take a few moments to breathe. The first and most crucial step to parenting any child, much less an Autistic one, is your frame of mind.

You First

So many parents completely forget this step. Think of yourself as a car. It doesn’t matter how much fuel you put in the tank or how hard you press on the gas pedal. If the engine is not working, the car will not move. And it will end up more broken than it already is.

Mental Health is essential.

Your child is going to pick up on your feelings. They may not express it, but your energy will hit them like a freight train, and they will project whatever that energy is back at you. Therefore, the first step to parenting has to be a calm mind.

“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have always loved this quote. But, as Elsa said, sometimes we have to, ‘Let it go’.

So, the first step is to take a deep breath, have a moment, and clear your mind as best you can. To begin with, it’s a nightmare. I will not lie to you.

First, you’ve just found out that this beautiful, perfect child you created has a mental condition that will change the course of their lives and the lives of everyone in their family.

It’s hard to take in. So many parents go through the stages of grief, and this is normal. Do not feel bad because you are sad, angry, or in denial. It is what happens to us all.

Nothing has changed.

The critical thing to remember is that they are the same little person today as yesterday. Nothing has changed other than a label. Try to look at that label as a gift. You now know why your child is behaving the way they are.

There is nothing wrong with the way you were parenting. You are not a bad parent. That was my greatest fear before my son’s diagnosis. Everything that he did that was A-typical stabbed like a knife directly into my heart. I felt like a failure.

It was like I had completely screwed up, and it was my fault he was the way he was.

Where had I gone wrong?

What was I doing differently from my first child?

It didn’t help that he didn’t sleep. Every time he pooped, he would pull it out of his diaper and smear it everywhere.

He was a force of nature akin to a category five hurricane. Yet, he would be smiling, laughing, and babbling away all the while.

It broke my heart because he was such a happy child, but all those little things added up to a nightmare from hell. Finally, I was at my wit’s end.

My mother was horrified.

One night, after a horrible day, I talked to my mom on the phone. I was nearly in tears and had just finished bleaching the walls, his crib, and every other surface he could reach.

This was after bathing him again. In that time frame, I had also changed all the bedding before tossing all the poo-covered everything into the washing machine.

I didn’t even try to rinse anything off; in it went on 90 degrees. No questions asked. I could re-wash everything in the morning and bleach the washing machine after. It was so far down my list of things I cared about; it didn’t even register.

One of the most upsetting things for me was that he didn’t have a tantrum. Instead, he laughed and smiled and tried to give mummy poo-covered cuddles.

I still don’t know why that upset me. Maybe it was because, in my mind, I thought he should be screaming the house down in this situation.

But no, he was such a happy baby and only cried when something was wrong. So smearing poo everywhere was not a serious situation in his mind.

If anything, my being upset is what would cause him to meltdown. He couldn’t comprehend why it disturbed me. All he knew was that he didn’t like the sensation of poop against his skin.

So, he got rid of it. If you think about it, it’s very logical and, for a two-year-old, made sense. Heck, looking back, it makes sense to me.

That wasn’t what horrified my mother, though. Although, that was the night I told her, ‘I would never do it, but I can understand why some women put pillows over their babies’ heads.’ there was no intent in my mind.

The thought to harm my child never even entered my head, but I emphasized the feeling to the depths of my soul.

She laid into me. ‘Don’t you ever talk like that! That baby doesn’t know any better!’ I knew and understood that. I was trying to express how desperate I felt at that moment.

I would never harm my child or any child. However, I was at the breaking point. I want to point out that you are not a horrible person if you have thoughts like this.

It would be best to remember that you are a human being, that hormones are still running rampant, and we all have dark thoughts now and then.

I have looked at my husband more than once, thinking, ‘why are you still breathing?’ But, of course, I was furious at him at the time.

Once, I threw a lemon meringue pie at him, then yelled at him when he ducked it, and it hit the wall instead. (I was postpartum at the time. Emotions ran very high and hot.)

Ask for help

This is an essential step. If you are ever feeling desperate, depressed, or to the point that you can’t cope, ask for help! There is no shame in it, and we all need help at times.

I know it is hard to admit that you might need help. Everyone struggles with this; I can attest that it was tough to ask for it.

Here is a link to the NHS about coping after having a new baby. While it’s not exclusive to autism, the information here is pure gold.

NHS Link

Another link for a website that helped me immensely is the

UK National Autistic Society.

While it is based in the UK, it is filled with helpful information. There will also be similar societies near you, wherever you live.

Don’t be afraid to use Google; it is your friend.

Another excellent resource is social media. Facebook was a lifesaver for me. There are countless groups of moms and dads, just like you and me, who need an outlet.

On Facebook, I found several groups that I joined and made friends with many parents in the same situation. It helped so much!

I could rant about the madness in my life and have other adults who understood.

Often we would share stories of just how insane it got. We also shared ideas of what worked and didn’t work.

You would be amazed at things you would never think of that some other sleep-deprived mombie had come up with that possibly saved everyone’s sanity that day.

Covid and Social Distancing

I was lucky in a way. When my son was small, we didn’t have to worry about this virus. So the best advice I can give here is to look at it with a silver lining.

No, It doesn’t help with their socialization. In addition, we have strained ourselves once again to the edge of our sanity, but there is an upside.

It is time we can spend with our kids. Use it wisely.

This time is where you can begin to learn their triggers and what causes meltdowns.

Think of it as a time out from the real world, a world where those little souls with little coping skills tend to get thrown into the deep end without a life jacket.

Meltdowns are not the end of the world.

Sure, they are embarrassing, and you may want to smack the tut out of the old lady across the aisle. But, please don’t do it; it’s not worth the jail time! Plus, it sends a bad example to the child.

How are they supposed to learn to behave in this crazy complex social world where we have to survive?

The first step is to figure out what triggered that meltdown. For example, did your little one see something they wanted to look at, and you walked on past?

Obviously, your mental powers did not pick up their telepathic message to you! But, don’t worry; it’s not them being a spoiled brat either. It is a child without the ability to communicate their needs and wants.

A child that at that moment has zero concepts of how they are supposed to act, trying to tell you that they need something.

You wouldn’t get upset with an infant screaming because something was wrong, would But, unfortunately, most people understand that’s the only way they have to communicate something is the matter.

It’s no different with an autistic child. They have not reached the point in their development where they can communicate or understand in an age-appropriate way their needs and wants.

Go with the flow, your child is an individual, and you will learn the little signs along the way, and soon you will be a pro.

Oh, and those stutters and mutters? Ignore them. They are the ones that are too small-minded to try and understand that there may be a reason your child is behaving the way they are.

If they try to give you unsolicited advice, politely, and may I stress the word politely, tell them to mind their own business. You do not owe a stranger any explanation of your parenting skills.

Diagnosis

When the paediatrician and her panel of specialists diagnosed him with autism, it was a relief for me. However, I had a reason for this behaviour.

It was the rainbow after the storm. That panel of professionals looked at me bewildered and confused when I said, ‘Oh good!’ after their diagnosis.

I had to explain to them that it was a good thing in my eyes, and we could work with this. I had not failed my child; he only needed a different way of parenting.

The relief was instant. I honestly felt like the world’s weight had lifted off of my shoulders.

It may have been the first time the doctors had encountered a parent reacting with relief. I have never claimed to be normal.

That may be a relevant point to make here. I very rarely do what people expect of me.

What I did do was research. Once the doctor released me back into the world, I hit the internet. This is where we come to my next tip.

Research

Learn about autism and the multitude of help available. The internet is filled with research from top medical professionals and support groups, and blogs.

I have touched above on a couple of them, but it is an endless sea of information.

A Grain of Salt

Please, do not take everything you read as gospel. Every child is different and reacts in ways specific to that little person. The most important life hack for raising an autistic child is finding out what works for them.

I have three children. All three of my children are parented differently in small ways. What worked for one did not work for the others.

For example, for my firstborn, I used controlled crying. This is where you lay a baby down and let them cry for a few minutes before they settle.

You listen to make sure that it’s not a serious cry but more of a whiny one. Usually, within five minutes, they are asleep.

With my second child, who happens to be my autistic baby boy, controlled crying was a no-go. Oh, I tried it, but it failed miserably.

He would scream until he vomited if he was left. He was not a good sleeper. In the end, I set up a travel cot downstairs and slept on the couch for a few weeks. He could see me, and he was comforted.

Then I worked my way up to putting him in his cot and holding his hand through the slats. Eventually, I was able to lay him down when he was sleepy, and he dropped off naturally.

However, I do want to go back to the poo-gate mentioned above. I had to make sure that he didn’t poo after I put him to bed, or we would have poo-agedon.

It was one of those things that I learned to deal with and eventually figured out the timing.

Final Thoughts

I could easily turn this article into a book of how-to’s and what to do’s. However, it’s not about that.

My purpose for writing it was to introduce the wacky wonderful world of autism. The key points to remember are:

  • Take time for yourself.
  • It’s okay not to be okay.
  • Every child is different and needs parenting in a way that works for you and them.
  • Ask for help.
  • You are not alone.
  • Autism is not a disability; it’s a different ability. (Okay, it is a disability and get all the help you can with it. But try not to use it as a crutch and teach your little one that they are fantastic just the way they are. Normal is boring, and autism can be awesome!
Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Culture and Current Events, Humor, Interview, Listicles, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Personal Narrative, Self-Help, Spirituality, True Story

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