(Beginning Note: please know that if you’re reading this, it totally doesn’t apply to you 🙂 and thus, please try not to take offense, as this post is not meant to apply to all parents of autistic children, nor is it even intended for all parents who refer to themselves as “Autism Moms/Dads/Parents”. The overwhelming majority of parents of autistic kids (even a great many of those who have assumed the moniker of Autism Mom/Dad/Parent) are awesome. This post is only directed toward those who turn this Autism Mom/Dad/Parent label into the trademark of an attention-seeking crusade. You probably know the type. Whether or not you’re familiar with this type already, you’ll see what I mean. If you call yourself an Autism Mom/Dad/Parent with benign or even endearing intentions, that’s cool with me. This post is directed toward those who do it for attention, similar to my other posts along this vein.) 🙂
(Potential Content Advisory: this post uses terminology that describes the conventional perspective; typically (although not always), these terms are generally put in quote marks to reiterate the fact that I don’t endorse these terms, nor do I share these perceptions.)
For the longest time, I wasn’t entirely sure why the term “Autism Mom” (or “Autism Dad” or “Autism Parent”) always made me squirm a little.
After some pondering and word-finding, I think I might have (at least part of) it figured out.
A mom is a mom; a dad is a dad; a parent is a parent.
Sounds pretty simple, right? I don’t even have to attribute the straightforwardness (aka “bluntness”) to my Asperger’s/autistic nature, because the concept really is just that straightforward.
By injecting the word “Autism” into (and before) the parent-terms, the attempt is to get the attention of the other person, whomever they’re addressing. Suddenly, they’re not “just” a mom/dad/parent anymore, they’re a “special” parent, a parent who is somehow different from the rest, one who is looking for something extra.
My guess is that they may feel like they deserve something extra for all their hard work, day in and day out. After all, they’re “putting up with” meltdowns, therapy appointments, and messes. They’re “coping with” the (perceived) “lacks” of milestones and connection/communication/interaction. They’re grieving over the (assumed, supposed) “lost dreams”, the “theft” of their children, and the now-pipe-dream of a “normal” life.
Parenting is often a thankless job. Kids don’t just wake up every day and say “thank you for all your hard work today”, and the general public sure doesn’t think twice, either; I don’t know if any parent has ever been thanked for bringing their children into the world.
And if parenting itself wasn’t challenging enough, try raising a child with a different neurotype. The operating systems are totally different. Attempts to communicate might not be recognized (a phenomenon that occurs both ways). There might be behaviors that are not well-understood.
I get all that. Really, I do.
A subset of parents may subconsciously protest, “what about me?”
Parenting is giving and giving, without getting much in return. I hate to say it, but: that’s the nature of parenting; it’s not all Kodak moments and rainbows and glitter and soft innocent slumber and squeals of joy.
It’s day-to-day tough stuff. The messes, the arguments, the struggles, the skinned knees, the coddling, the accommodation, the soothing.
It’s all part of the package. A package to which sometimes I wonder if this parental subset ever gave serious consideration.
This is the reality of parenting, whether the child is on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum or not.
Another aspect of parenting is that when considering the decision to have children, one must be prepared for anything. Never assume anything, because the future is the future, and tomorrow isn’t ours yet.
Giving birth is the only consistent identifiable factor gathered so far during this insatiable quest for the causes of autism. Everything else is a crap shoot. Everyone takes their chances.
So the parents of autistic children rolled the Autism Dice. Those dice have been cast; there is no do-over; genetic mingling between sperm and egg does not come with spellcheck or an edit button. When anyone makes a decision of any kind, they get what they get, and that also applies to having children.
I’m not trying to be insensitive here; if anyone is looking for someone or something to blame for whatever it is that they may be dissatisfied with, point to nature itself; I’m just the messenger.
For many parents within this subset, I reckon there’s a feeling of having been “screwed”, of having been stolen from.
But here’s the thing: there was nothing to take, because as I mentioned, the future doesn’t belong to us yet. It isn’t ours to claim. Any point in time is only ours when it actually arrives.
Whoever is born must be parented; having a child who is different is no different; the job description remains the same. There is no extra recognition, there are no extra gold stars, simply for proceeding to raise the child one brought into this world, even if the child is different from the parent in a significant way.
The injection of the term “Autism” before that of “Mom/Dad/Parent” is, the way I see it, simply an attempt to shine the spotlight on themselves, an attempt to gain the recognition and extra kudos for the extra (perceived? Actual?) work that goes into raising a child different from oneself.
It’s a natural subconscious inclination to perceive children as possessions or extensions of oneself, but that’s not how it works. Every child is their own unique individual, their own separate person, with a separate identity. Attempting to take that child’s identity and co-opt it for one’s own use, as this specific subset of parents tends to do, is missing the point of parenting, which is to protect the child from the outside world while guiding the child to grow into the human being they were designed to be. Not to use the child’s difference of neurotype as a battle cry for a pat on the back or a dose of sympathy or extra credit.
I’ll take the time to point out here that it’s interesting how, despite the fact that so many autistic people have children ourselves, I haven’t seen any of these Autism Parent blogs (the autism-negative warrior type) or “The Mighty” articles about the challenges of raising autistic children being written by autistic parents.
If we write about our children at all, it’s from a place of warmth and acceptance. We’re not lamenting about how hard it is.
Do we really have it easier? Or, are we doing any less of a good job and thus, simply failing to realize how hard it “really” is? Or, might we actually be better equipped to be parents of autistic children because there’s more of an inherent mutual understanding?
I don’t have any answers for those questions; I do suspect that because an autistic parent and their autistic child may share the same neurotype, that some aspects of raising the child likely come easier, as there is a shared neuro-oriented connection. I absolutely do not believe that autistic parents are simply “missing something” about how challenging parenting can be. I believe it’s possible that a parent who shares their child’s neurotype might be a more competent parent for that particular child, and perhaps a better parent-child match, but since I don’t have children myself (for both voluntary and biological reasons), I can’t comment further on this particular aspect from a firsthand perspective.
So anyway, getting back to “Autism Parent”-ing…
It appears to me that many of the warrior-type Autism Mom/Dads/Parents(TM) use the term “Autism” before their “Mom/Dad/Parental” designation to set themselves apart from the rest of the “ordinary” parents out there, who have the “privilege” of raising “normal” children. They seem to be seeking extra recognition and extra sympathy for their extra sacrifices….
…Except that parenting itself consists of sacrifices. That’s a major aspect of raising children. You give of yourself, your energy, your time, your space, and just about everything else to see to it that those children develop into their own, and live their own lives, no matter who the child is or how they turned out or how the reality might differ from what you had imagined, desired, or presumed would be.
Given that conception is a crap-shoot in the first place, and that one has to be prepared for whatever curve-ball their children may toss their way, there is no extra recognition due these warrior-parents. A parent doesn’t get to say, “we chose to have children and got carried away forming all of these assumptions and premature dreams, but we didn’t get what we wanted, so now we’re ‘suffering’, and the world needs to feel sorry for us and keep an endless steady stream of pats on the back, kudos, admiration, and sympathy coming, mmm-kay?”
I’m sorry, but It Just Doesn’t Work Like That.
Furthermore, when a parent co-opts their child’s Asperger’s/autism spectrum status for their own crusade and their own identity, there’s something warped and narcissistic about that. As long as a parent is blogging or Mighty-writing about how “awful” autism is and how raising their autistic child is an “impossible” “nightmare”, then they’re not actually…parenting. They’re not spending time with their child.
So how much of their time and energy is being given to their child, if the parent is spending time lamenting, snapping pictures, importing them into their media gallery, adding them to their posts, publishing said posts, responding to comments, and reading the blogs of other parents who do the same thing? What is their child doing all this time? Missing their mom/dad/parent, that’s what.
Those parents seem to want to make the situation All About Them. Well, I’m sorry, but it’s not All About Them.
The last point I’d like to make about why the “Autism Mom/Dad/Parent(TM)” rubs me in a slimy way is that this “label” they’ve adopted for themselves isn’t accurate, unless the parent themselves is on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.
If they’re not, it’s a silly term to use. Consider an analogy: if one of these parents learned one day that their son/daughter/etc was actually gay or lesbian, they wouldn’t call themselves “Gay/Lesbian Mom/Dad/Parent”, unless the parent themselves was also gay/lesbian. Nor would they call themselves a “Trans Parent” if their son/daughter/etc was transgender, but the parent was not. If their child was left-handed (which was, at one point, also considered pathological), they wouldn’t call themselves “Left-Handed Mom/Dad/Parent”, either.
Because it sounds silly, and it’s a little tacky to assume labels that don’t actually apply to you.
So why does Autism Mom/Dad/Parent get a pass? Why is there an exception made for parents of people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum? Why is that so widely accepted as a battle-cry?
I wish I knew. The best that I can figure is that nobody (in that parental subset or their sympathizers) has taken the time to connect the thought-dots that far. The idea that this custom is silly hasn’t yet been considered. It doesn’t sound silly to them because they never thought about it that way.
I suspect that there’s likely a large portion of Autism Moms/Dads/Parents out there who are using this terminology simply because everyone else (within that subset) has, and it seemed like The Thing to do, and so it never became a question. It’s just as likely that this particular subset-within-a-subset of parents will consider these points and realize that what I’m saying has some merit. It’s not these parents that this post is referring to or directed at; it’s the others who, because of their own personality and desire for attention and recognition, would probably read this post, scoff and huff, and continue doing what they’re doing.
That’s no skin off my back. I don’t have to interact much with these people; how they live their daily lives has little-to-no bearing on the quality of mine.
But it might be (and I suspect it is) a whole different story for their children. And it’s my concern for them that fueled this post. ❤
(Image Credit: Minjae Lee)