A Changing Child With Autism Needs a Changing Parent
Diagnosis often brings with it clarity of thought. We are given an explanation and often concrete actions in the shape of therapy. A lot of therapy. We take our child to so much therapy that our clarity becomes lost in the fog of scheduling, implementing, analyzing, assessing, researching, changing, and repeating that cycle.
Then one day, we realize that our child has grown older, matured in a non-typical manner, but matured none-the-less, and we need to change our parenting to match their new needs. The seven-year-old who still wears diapers may, in fact, be ready, able, and not just willing, but dying to ride the bus to school. Without you. It’s in these moments that we need to step back, monitor and adjust. Monitor and adjust.
Below are just four of the areas you may need to change about your parenting to stay in line with your changing child:
1. Move from withholding independence to encouraging independence
Was your child a flight risk as a toddler? Did your child wear diapers for so long that you switched to adult brands? Did you choose your child’s clothing and dress your child? Therapy and maturity can often move our children ahead at such a snail’s pace that we can be unaware of the gains made. Checking in regularly with therapists, teachers, and caregivers can help you with this transition.
2. Move from a primary caregiver to a squadron of caregivers
Often, one parent is the go-to for your child. Often, one parent takes on the role of the caregiver so that the other parent can focus on work. Often, there is only one parent. Having a single caregiver serves an important purpose: stability in a time of chaos. However, as your child matures, his/her world should grow.
Start with trusted, long-time friends or family, then gradually add rings upon rings of concentric circles, such as teachers, mentors, and professionals until you have a solar system of caregivers broadening your child’s world and lifting your burden. Accept your sister’s offer to watch your child for a few hours, ask the teacher for a babysitter recommendation, use respite care.
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3. Move from thinking your child is in it alone and let in friends/lovers
Social skills have been tough, tough, tough. Elementary school came and went without any birthday invitations, but middle school is a petri dish of new relationships. Your 17-year-old wants a job like his peers, with colleagues that you won’t Your senior asks someone to prom. Those all offer opportunities for your child to build relationships that don’t include you, that are by design, meant to exclude you. Your child may get emotionally hurt and suffer a broken heart.
If you don’t have a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist for your child already, start looking for one. These professionals will help your child navigate that minefield. You should find one for yourself as well.
4. Move from believing your child will live with you forever to accept that he/she may not
You may have decided just after the diagnosis that he/she would live with you forever. That is not in your control because you might not be healthy enough for that to happen or just as with a typical child, your child might reject that notion. It’s time to plan for options, write a will, and investigate government options like assisted living and social security if you haven’t already.
Monitor and adjust.
This article was featured in Issue 89 – Solutions for Today and Tomorrow with ASD