Q&A Section – How to prepare yourself to parent when you have autism?
This is the question as featured in Issue Number 3
How do I prepare to parent children when I am autistic?
We often receive many questions from people but the most common question must be: How to prepare to have children as an adult with Asperger’s?
First and foremost, nothing can fully prepare you for being a parent. However, taking parenting classes can be very instructional and give you some useful ways to handle common childhood behaviors.
If you are thinking about having children – plan. The three major things you can do to help yourself and your family will be: arranging back up, having coping mechanisms, and get financially prepared.
1. Arranging back up – You will need support. Every parent needs a break. We all hope for a healthy baby but you never know what problems might arise. Nothing makes a great parent like a parent that has time alone to recharge themselves and come back to their family rested, rejuvenated and refreshed. However, finding a qualified person to babysit a child on the spectrum is quite challenging. Babysitters get more expensive and harder to find with each additional child and with each disability. I have many friends that continue their extracurricular activities like they don’t have a child because they are able to drop off the kid at the gym daycare or hire a mother’s helper from high school with great ease. This is not so simple when you have a child with an intellectual disability, behavioral disability, or with a medical issue. So discuss with family and friends. Are your parents retired? Can they help? What about your in-laws? Your siblings? A daycare? Now is the time to ask “what if”? We all hope for the best but preparation is easier than scouring for help when you have a screaming infant. My first child has Asperger’s and hypotonia (low muscle tone/strength). My second is a neuro-typical child but was in the NICU for four days with breathing difficulties. Once she was released from the NICU she had horrible acid reflux which made feeding a nightmare. My daughters were born only twelve months apart and both never slept. It was emotionally and physically draining. Don’t get the wrong idea, I wouldn’t trade my kids for the world, but those first few years were extremely taxing. The best thing that you can do is to have a list of people to help you babysit or just help.
2. Coping mechanisms – Changes are not easy for people on the spectrum to adjust to, but when you have children – things change. It is important that your spouse realize that routines and structure are essential to your emotional stability. At the same time you need to try to be understanding and have some coping mechanisms in place when plans change. Try to think positive. Retrain your brain. Instead of getting upset that you are stuck in traffic put on your favorite song and enjoy the break. If someone drives in front of you (cutting you off), instead of being angry at the driver think of the possibility that the person may need to be racing to get to the hospital to save someone’s life. Remember to take deep breaths. Go for a walk and think about how you feel. Try to tell your partner when you are upset, but think before you speak. Using the phrase “I feel like” is recommended when discussing emotions. It is not recommended to keep feelings inside because it just builds tension and nothing will be changed. Discuss your feelings when you have calmed down. This will prepare you for the next time. For example, shortly after my first child was born my husband and I were invited to a party about 45 minutes away from our home. I made sure that our daughter had a fresh diaper and a full belly before putting her in the car with the hope that we would have an uneventful drive to the party. However, about ten minutes after getting on the highway she started to scream. My husband did not want to pull over or get off the highway because he needed to complete his mission of driving to the destination. My daughter ended up vomiting all over herself and the car. Finally, my husband got off an exit and pulled over on the side of a road. As I cleaned her up, my husband paced on the grass beside the car taking deep breaths. We went to the party and on the way home he explained to me that he has this urge to finish what is started. To complete the task assigned. He has the ability to envision these plans and when “the plan” doesn’t go as envisioned he becomes very upset because he doesn’t know what will come next or how it changes “the plan.” I tried to respect the fact that he was very bothered by altering his “plan.” In addition, he agreed that the next time the baby cries that he would find a safe place to pull over. This way, with any luck I can burp her and spare everyone the mess of a vomiting baby. Had I been able to burp her, and strap her back into her seat, we would’ve still completed “the plan” of attending the party. For other helpful coping mechanisms consider cognitive therapy.
3. Finances – The cost of delivering a baby varies from state to state and country to country. However, one thing remains true for babies all over the world – they cost money. You have to factor in the cost of delivering the child, clothing the child, diapering the child, feeding the child (in case you aren’t breast feeding or aren’t capable of doing so), buying bottles, bedding, etc. Then, what about the unexpected? What if something goes wrong during delivery and your child is in the NICU? What if your child has a disability and you need to make sure your insurance or bank account can cover medical costs or the medical equipment your child needs? I am not trying to scare anyone. I am trying to tell you to not overlook the costs of things. By no means should money stop you from having a child. There are tons of financial support out there and a variety of ways to raise money if you have a child that needs medical equipment. Most, if not all, hospitals are willing to work out payment plans. The Department of Social Security can offer support. Easter Seals and many other organizations offer many different ways to help. Research “respite money” and grants. Finances are important but just remember that the best thing you can give your child is love – not money.