My mom is not an Autism Mom. She never was. (I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be one; there’s enough debate about that already elsewhere. I’m just stating the facts as our family experienced them, which was just the way it was for us, probably a natural product of the times.)
Of course, part of the reason for this is that she never had the chance to be. Back in those days, none of us knew that I was on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, nor did Asperger’s/autism “exist” (in the diagnostic manuals) as we recognize it today.
My mum knew I was different…and that’s all she knew. Because back then, that was all there was to be known.
That’s all any of us knew. And she played to my strengths and accommodated my weaknesses as an individual. She guided me into the world, teaching me how to live and work within it. This did involve teaching me the yardstick by which we’re so often erroneously measured, but it also helped set the bar for me in terms of becoming an independent individual. There were certain standards, and not meeting them was not an option.
That’s not quite as ableist as it may sound. Since neither of us knew the truth about my autism, what other option did we have?
My childhood took place in another era, an era during which autism was married to a nebulous label known as childhood schizophrenia. In fact, any reference to autism was nestled underneath the schizophrenia label. And I certainly wasn’t schizophrenic by any definition. So, no one thought to look there, and even if they had, they wouldn’t have seen me there.
So my mom never had a movement to become part of. She never had a bandwagon to jump on. She never had a megaphone to speak through. She never had a website to visit. She never had a blog to write, nor blog comments or other blogs to read.
She never even had a support network. She traveled alone.
I don’t know if she ever felt alone or desperate. She simply accepted me for who I was, whatever I was. We didn’t have the benefit–or the curse-of a label. We didn’t have the insight that a label would have granted, but that also meant that we were also free of its stereotypes and misconceptions.
The movie “Vaxxed” was never made about me. Autism $peaks was never trying to cure me. ABA was never used to treat me. Government databases were never trying to get their hands on my genetic test results and catalog me.
My mom simply knew that I was “obsessed” with feathers, that I played with Legos, that I collected rocks, and that my ability to tell her the key–and mode–in which the song she was listening to was written. She knew I was good at music and not so good at ice skating. She knew I was liberated by reading books but intimidated by science.
In short, she saw me as a person. She saw me as the little girl that I was. She watched with amusement as I lined up my matchbox cars. She marveled at my Lego cities. She requested songs I had composed. She cheered me on in karate.
She did everything that today’s Autism Moms(TM) do (by now, y’all probably know the type to whom I’m referring, yes?). She consoled me when I got teased at school. She tried to sort out the confusion bestowed upon me by the world. She weathered my meltdowns. She set reasonable standards and expected me to meet them. She avoided certain places at certain times because she knew that, for reasons unknown to us at the time, those environments would set me off.
We didn’t even have the terminology to identify what I was, and yet, she still did these things. My mother is an astute, tuned-in person, with a Masters Degree (the Science variety) in Special Education. She completed a long string of classes in Psychology and Child Development. She knew her shizz.
This also meant that she knew what “average” kids were “supposed” to be like. She had to have known from a fairly early age that I wasn’t one of them, because she was also a very attentive parent (without crossing the line into Helicopter Territory). She watched me grow and develop. Being a detail-oriented person, she also noticed–and noted–my activities.
She was progressive, though, too. She never got stuck in Milestone Obsession Land, panicking if I didn’t have the exact x-number-word vocabulary by x-number-of-months-old.
Like all of the other awesome parents of Asperger’s/autistic kids today, she was (and still is) all about letting kids grow and develop on their own, and she’s flexible and open-minded enough to say that they would do what they were meant to do when they were ready to do so.
She noticed when I didn’t talk until I was two, but she didn’t freak out. She shrugged and thought, “oh well, she will when she’s ready”. She noticed when I suddenly began talking one day, out of the blue, in clear compound-complex sentences. She noticed when I could suddenly read one day when I was three. She noticed that I clapped my hands under the glass top of the coffee table repeatedly. She noticed that I spun for hours, with glee, in the living room to music.
She noticed that I tended toward a lack of coordination, so she enrolled me in ballet and tap dance lessons. But when I tired of it, she didn’t push. She brought up the karate idea when I was 14 and my mom and I are pretty parallel thinkers, so I had already been thinking for a while how much I might like to learn karate. There was never any push to get involved in anything. She wasn’t about to transfer an extension of her unrealized childhood dreams onto my life.
Yep, she did everything that any good parent does. She did all the “extra” work, too. She just focused her parenting activity toward constructive directions. Rather than put me in therapy because of my meltdowns (yeah, I made baby-sitters cry–often (unfortunately)), or Helicopter-parent me because I didn’t talk until after I turned two, she simply spent time with me, and worked with me academically, tutored me, and played with me (which I admit, is a luxury that, try as we all might, not everyone has). She guided me, gently disciplined me, and provided a safe, stable, predictable environment. She hugged me and watered my soul with plenty of words of affection and terms of endearment.
She was much more constructively involved than (some of) the parents today, and I’m pretty sure that includes the martyr-like attention-addicted Autism Parents(TM), because unlike the small-but-noisy, woe-is-me subset of today’s parents of autistic children, she didn’t perceive that she had any extra recognition due her, and she never had a blog with which to seek it.
She just did her thing, and it turned out to be right. Completely right.
We had our occasional figuratively-knock-down-drag-out arguments. I could be quite the obstinate handful, and even a saint has their breaking point. I’m not saying it was all roses.
There were still aspects of life that I couldn’t hope to understand until they simply clicked into place one day.
There were still emotions that I possessed that I couldn’t explain or express properly; usually my mom could pick up on their underlying roots, but even my mom isn’t infallible, and there were times were we both missed the underlying stressor.
There were still behaviors I exhibited that irritated her and confused us both.
It helped that she knew that, and it also helped that she taught me that. We learned to roll with the punches. We knew that it was pointless to dwell on the past beyond that of being able to extract a lesson or two out of it.
Since we didn’t even know I was Aspergian/autistic, we never considered any of the “therapies” that Asperger’s/autistic children underwent. My mother never ranted about our meltdowns or messes to the neighbors or the fellow neighborhood moms in the same morning carpool. She never thought of me as the autistic “mentally ill” child that I would have been known as during those times; she simply thought of me as her daughter with talents, deep feelings, a sometimes-fiery temper, introversion and shyness, and an extra-sensitivity to the environment. She knew I stared. She knew I was dreamy. But she never saw me as “lacking”.
Since she didn’t know the temporary name for my neurotype condition, she couldn’t make it her crusade. Knowing her, even if we had known the proper terminology, she would have refrained from making it about her. Because she inherently and absolutely knew that parenting was not about her; it was about us. She didn’t give birth to us in order to have little people to serve as human pets in her life, or have someone to call her “mommy”; she had children to contribute something to the world, and she parented as such.
For her, the best recognition or reward she could receive is to produce kind, logical, self-sufficient/independent offspring who did our best according to our abilities to “earn our keep” (a mere figure of speech, not her words or mine) in the world.
And that’s exactly what she did. Bravo to her. 🙂 ❤
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