Does it Take a Special Parent to Raise an Autistic Kid?

Several of my earliest memories involve signs of autism: me walking in circles and touching them in my own repetitive ritual, mind occupied with thoughts, content to walk around without outside interference. And though my parents didn’t have a name for it for years, I continued to show signs of autism growing up.

Having me didn’t make them “super parents.” It didn’t turn them more “special” than the other parents of kids at my school. They weren’t “superheroes” or “warriors” or any of the things people post on Pinterest.

This is a post about those posts. I want to talk about why they’re inaccurate, and why their implications can be hurtful in ways I’m sure the people posting them don’t realize.

Let’s outline it:

  • Not all autistic kids have good parents
  • Autistic kids aren’t always difficult to raise
  • Implying that we’re so challenging can be hurtful
  • There are different things that make a parent special.

Some of these points might be things you already know, and some might be a surprise.

Not all autistic kids get good parents.

Perhaps I’m being too literal with my literal autistic mind, but the premise here is obviously flawed.

Not all autistic kids get amazing parents. Some have okayish parents. Some have terrible parents. Autistic children can be born to any kind of parent.

Some autistic kids are born to murderers. Some are born to criminals. Some are born to people who hate autism so much that they are willing to kill their own child just to be rid of the “difficulty.”

That’s not special. That’s monstrous. It goes against human evolution, basic human decency, and (if you’re religious) God.

If you claim that having an autistic child makes you special, then you’re saying some awfully nice things about murderers who decide to kill their own children.

Do they decide to commit murder because autistic children are “difficult?” If so, then you’re providing a convenient excuse for these selfish killers. And you’re also being factually incorrect.

We’re not always “difficult”

As a girl, I was the “ideal” child. Obedient, clever, eager to please, and curious, I charmed adults with my good manners and sophisticated mind. Teachers loved me. My report cards said I was a “pleasure to have in class.”

Starting from around age 4 or 5, I have no recollection of ever being punished, because a simple “no” with a quick explanation was enough for me to correct my behavior immediately. Even the implication that I was behaving imperfectly was enough to make me re-evaluate.

That’s a dream child, right?

Well, it turns out I had oceans of bottled-up anxiety and anguish. By my late teen years, this became unsustainable, and I imploded in a mess of tears, rapid-onset asthma, and perfectionism. My burnout was so epic I wasn’t sure I was going to survive it. My parents lost a lot of sleep trying to figure out what was wrong with me and how to help me.

First I was an “easy” child. Then I became a “difficult” teenager.

Either way, I was still me. Either way, I needed my parents to hug me and love me and tell me how special I was to them. In fact, I needed it even more when I was crying myself to sleep at night because my world was falling apart around me.

My parents did say a few hurtful things to me when I was suffering. I don’t think they knew any better. My dad later apologized.

But they never said hurtful things about me to other people. They never said that I was troublesome or that they wished I didn’t exist. They never wished for a different, non-autistic version of me that they could love more easily.

It was hard on them. But it was especially hard on me. And while they asked other people for help, they never talked negatively about me or implied that they were heroes for tolerating me while I was in pain.

It hurts when our loved ones imply that putting up with us is a challenge.

What makes an “autism parent” more special than a regular parent?

Think about it.

Is it because sometimes autistic people have crying meltdowns? Is it because some of us act out when we don’t know how to handle our frustration? Is it because our body language mystifies neurotypicals?

Does that mean we’re harder to love?

Because we get this message in many ways. When they complain about our behavior in front of our faces. When they tell us how difficult we are. When they say they must be pretty great if they are willing to put up with someone as challenging, as burdensome, as unlovable, as us.

So often we paint the picture of the hero special needs mom like simply loving her child is some great challenge, but it isn’t.

Kaylene George, mother

You might be thinking “That’s not what I mean. I don’t think that way about my child.”

And there’s a good chance you don’t. But whatever’s in your words, this is the message that your kid might be hearing and internalizing. And other people’s kids might see this message and start thinking the same thing as themselves.

They might open up their social media, see these posts, and think “Autistic people must just be hard to love. Other people’s parents think it too. Maybe the bullies are correct and I really am unlovable.”

I hope you don’t want your kid to think that. I hope you don’t want other people’s kids to think that.

You can use your voice. You can say that loving a disabled person doesn’t make you a hero. (I adore my sister with Down syndrome, and I’m no hero. She’s actually really easy to love.) You can affirm that your child, and autistic people in general, are worth loving and having as part of your life.

And if you were to do that… it would strike me as pretty special.

So what makes a parent special?

In case you’d like to share on Pinterest

You want to be proud of yourself. Of course you do. Parenting is a tough job, and there are extra challenges that you may face as a parent of an autistic kid.

Well, I know what a special parent looks like. I know because I have the best dad in the entire universe. (Sorry, everyone who owns a “world’s best dad” mug—you got ripped off.)

As the person with the Best Dad, I am an excellent authority on special parents. Here are some things that make you special:

  • Taking time to listen to your kids and validate their feelings shows that you’re a special parent.
  • Fighting for your kid’s education, health care, and rights makes you a special parent.
  • Throwing yourself into research so that you can learn how to help your child makes you a special parent.
  • Advocating for your child and other disabled people so the world will respect and accept them makes you a special parent.
  • Teaching your kid to be confident and assertive in a world that puts them down makes you a special parent.
  • Showing your child unconditional love every day makes you a special parent.

You aren’t a good parent because of the child you have. You’re a good parent because of the decisions you make every day. It’s not what you have, but what you do.

So let’s circle back to the title of this post. It doesn’t take a special parent to raise an autistic kid, or any kid in general. But when a parent commits to being kind and loving and respectful of their child every day, that parent chooses to be special.

You can’t control what type of child you get. But you can control how you treat that child, and good parenting decisions are what count.

Maybe you’d like to make a special decision today.

10 thoughts on “Does it Take a Special Parent to Raise an Autistic Kid?

  1. Luna [Yaesmen; Ava; CoolPseud]:

    Thank you again for emphasising the ordinariness of autistic parenting and autistic childing.

    Sometimes the quotidian is what we want the most.

    “Starting from around age 4 or 5, I have no recollection of ever being punished, because a simple “no” with a quick explanation was enough for me to correct my behavior immediately. Even the implication that I was behaving imperfectly was enough to make me re-evaluate.”

    That is one powerful internal motivation – and you can see the path there to anxiety and perfectionism; which is something some parents deal with better than others. Or they deal in different ways based on their own experiences and what they have seen done or know to be done in their society and community.

    That happened to me a bit later – some of my first memories are of punishments I didn’t and couldn’t understand. And the re-evaluation – it takes me a while to see and act on a correction – and often I get in my own way.

    Sometimes you can see that come down from the parents to the kid and often highlighted by the high-pressure situations lots of people are submitted to through education and assessment.

    Katie is easy to love, isn’t she?

    “It was hard on them. But it was especially hard on me. And while they asked other people for help, they never talked negatively about me or implied that they were heroes for tolerating me while I was in pain.”

    So important. Especially the not implying they were heroes for “tolerating [Luna] while [she] was in pain”. If you get tolerance for your pain; and pain for your tolerance – it will not make you very tolerant, will it now? And you won’t be able to be tolerant when you need it – it will not mean so much when you’re not in pain.

    And that situation happens to so many teenagers and young adults.

    Important to ask people for help privately and model this to your child publicly.

    Another important thing:

    “You aren’t a good parent because of the child you have. You’re a good parent because of the decisions you make every day. It’s not what you have, but what you do.”

    A lot of people base their decisions on what they have, or what they think they don’t or can’t have.

    They forget that they have control over what they do – because it was so long that they didn’t have control or couldn’t access that control freely.

    And the process by which the child internalises “I am hard to love [because I am autistic and my parents don’t understand me]” is well delineated.

    “I hope you don’t want your kid to think that. I hope you don’t want other people’s kids to think that.

    You can use your voice. You can say that loving a disabled person doesn’t make you a hero. (I adore my sister with Down syndrome, and I’m no hero. She’s actually really easy to love.) You can affirm that your child, and autistic people in general, are worth loving and having as part of your life.

    And if you were to do that… it would strike me as pretty special.”

    Yes – that is what Kaylene George and others do well. And “I don’t want other kids to think that” is actually a big motivation; especially in my writing and advocacy life. And you can do this when they are not currently in your life but have been in some time in the past or future [like you are doing, CoolPseud].

    “Easy children” and “difficult teenagers” are still the person you know and love and have responsibility for and to.

    I would like to say “You are not the child you are because of the parents you have [or relatives or friends in your life]. You are the child you are because you are you and you are worthy”.

    Like

    1. Yes, Katie is so easy to love and such an easy sister to have. We almost always get along. I believe I won the sibling lottery.

      Your thoughts are always so lovely and poetically stated. Thank you very much for sharing them.

      Like

  2. I love your writing. I have been meaning to say this for such a long time. I have no idea as to why I held off. You are beyond inspirational. I am not exaggerating when I say that you taught me *everything I know* about autism. You really did. Metaphorically, you are a shining beacon, and you are the reason that I can help autistics, or put this cause at the top of my list. Your posts are always so inspiring. I know for a fact that you have helped many autistics and those who know them, but you have also helped me a lot, as a neurotypical who happens to be unusual, feel loved and validated. With your words. With strong, inspirational women like Claire Fields and Tara Fairchild. Thank you so much for taking the time to educate those who need it. Reading the description of your father, it’s clear that he’s passed the awesome down to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. You are so sweet and your comment means a lot to me. It made my day.

      I’m so happy that my work has been able to teach and inspire you. One of my underlying messages is that everyone has value, no matter what’s in their DNA or how their mind works. I am glad that you took it to heart, both about other people and yourself.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s