Parenting on the Spectrum4 min read

I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. In par­tic­ular, I wanted to be a mom to a little girl. I envi­sioned myself as the stay at home mom type. My daughter and I would have Saturday after­noon tea par­ties. 

We would cook Sunday morning pan­cakes in our pajamas– you know, the fancy kind that come out looking like cute forest crea­tures. We would spend quiet evenings snug­gled on the sofa and fill our days with adven­ture, explo­ration, and laughter. I hon­estly thought it would be pretty easy. I was so very wrong.

My daughter was born when I was newly twenty-three. I was single, not yet fin­ished with my degree, and had a pretty fero­cious case of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (PPD and PPA). These fac­tors paired with my sen­si­tive nature and a par­tic­u­larly fussy new­born made the first few months of her life extremely dif­fi­cult. I knew I loved her, but I could not really feel it. What I did feel, was ter­ri­fied and over­whelmed.

It is a hard truth to admit, but I hated being alone with her. I con­stantly wor­ried that I could not take care of her well enough or handle the stress that came along with being her mom. I was fully sur­prised by the real­iza­tion that I did not enjoy being a mother. These neg­a­tive emo­tions less­ened sub­stan­tially as she grew older and I was treated for PPD and PPA. I was able to fully bond with her, but the feel­ings of fear and inca­pa­bility lin­gered.

Until recently, I did not know the extent of my own neu­ro­log­ical dif­fer­ences so I did not under­stand why I found almost all aspects of moth­er­hood to be so dif­fi­cult. My anx­iety and sen­sory over­load were com­pounded by a heavy guilt. The three fed off each other con­stantly and left me depleted. No one knew this, though, because it was down­right embar­rassing. How could I pos­sibly admit that though I loved my child, I could not say I loved being her mother?

Eventually, I learned that I fall on what was pre­vi­ously known as the Asperger’s end of the Autism Spectrum (Frankly, I refuse to seri­ously use the phrase “High-functioning Autism”). One aspect of this includes that I am easily over­stim­u­lated by touch, noise, and unplanned events. Parenting is full of all three.

Parenting a child who likely falls some­where on the spec­trum her­self? It is beyond over­whelming. My daughter is my favorite human on the planet. She is bril­liant, vibrant, cre­ative, and so very full of love that it is almost heart­breaking. I love her more than I knew I had the capacity for.

But, that doesn’t change the fact that par­enting with autism is straight-up sen­sory hell. There is so much noise that at times I hon­estly want to use ear plugs. The amount of touch required is man­aged by pure will power and extreme devo­tion. Navigating one of her melt­downs over having to wear socks that feel “wrong” or eat food that isn’t the exact right tem­per­a­ture or process big emo­tions that she is unsure of the source for, takes every ounce of patience I pos­sess. It is beyond hard. It is some­thing which I do not have a word for.

I am not a martyr by any means. I chose to become a parent and while my strug­gles are dif­ferent than that of most people they are not sin­gular and they were not thrust upon me without my con­sent. This is my circus and she is my monkey. I would not have it any other way; I would choose her over and over in any ver­sion of reality I could pos­sibly be pre­sented with. I am filled with grat­i­tude for the tea par­ties, and sofa snug­gles, and Sunday morning pan­cakes (that look nothing at all like forest crea­tures).  I am thankful to say that I have grown to love being a mother.

But, I do wish it were easier. More than that, I wish the people in my life under­stood the means I go through to parent well. Yet still, more than either of those things I want other par­ents with autism to know they are not alone and they are not bad par­ents because of their dif­fer­ences. They are incred­ible war­riors who fight so hard every day against demons no one else sees. They per­se­vere relent­lessly for their chil­dren, and that is what makes them the best advo­cate pos­sible for their kids.

I want them to see that autism does not make them less of a parent than anyone else; it simply colors the way in which they con­nect with their chil­dren. When those con­nec­tions are healthy, they are beau­tiful beyond words. I want neu­ro­di­verse par­ents to under­stand that, just like their neu­rotyp­ical friends and family, who they are is enough. It has always been and will always be enough.

2 Comments

  1. This is so beau­tiful! I remember the days when my daughter was little and just how hard it was. It’s hard in other ways now. Sensory wise (apart from when they are very upset) I promise it gets so much easier! 💕

  2. Hey, it’s very inter­esting to read your per­spec­tive here, par­tic­u­larly as it seems to be a mirror image of my own. I never wanted chil­dren and always thought I would be devoted to my spe­cial inter­ests rather than other human beings — that somehow they would go forth and mul­tiply in the world like my own spe­cial ver­sion of chil­dren.

    Long before I was diag­nosed with Asperger’s, I knew that I was dif­ferent in some way and needed to con­trol aspects of the imme­diate world around me to keep my grip on things (or another way of putting it would be: to keep the mask on/up). So when my partner expressed an interest in having chil­dren, I wor­ried con­stantly that having a child would eat up the breathing space that I needed just to func­tion and I feared becoming resentful of that. She tried to reas­sure me that this was a nat­ural phase lots of poten­tial par­ents go through, but I knew that it was more than that for me.

    Even before my wife became preg­nant, I’d pre­empted all the bad stuff. Foreseeing all the ter­rible stuff that can happen before it does is part of my coping mech­a­nism in the world and I was even afraid to get into a rela­tion­ship in the first place because of having to even­tu­ally con­front the idea of having chil­dren. So unlike you, I never thought par­enting would be easy…I’d already con­demned it to being a living hell. A voice in my head (that con­stantly reminds me about the morals of the neu­rotyp­ical world) told me ‘that’s a selfish way to think’, but I knew that I couldn’t have chil­dren for altru­istic rea­sons (i.e. purely to sat­isfy my partner or to fur­ther the human race). Instead I needed to link it to a need in myself…but I couldn’t see how this could pos­sibly work.

    Now, more than three years later, I get this com­pletely. My son is far more a grounding factor in my life than a desta­bil­ising one. Yes, there’s less breathing space and the chal­lenges are many — most days after just taking him to kinder­garten and returning home I feel com­pletely done with the world — but he also forced me to estab­lish a rou­tine in my life that was missing before­hand. Something things have to be done at cer­tain times and in cer­tain ways and whilst that was hard it first (espe­cially in the first few years), it’s now become somehow freeing. I am somehow lib­er­ated from all the pos­sible options.

    He also has helped me a lot socially. Whereas I don’t con­nect well with others in everyday life on my own, I do a bit better with him around. He forces me to engage with others, some­times for better, some­times for worse — but at least I’m get­ting some out­side per­spec­tive and not just iso­lating com­pletely. On the other hand, since having him I don’t main­tain any other friend­ships (as my social-cup is already full), but I also feel more jus­ti­fied in keeping time com­part­men­talised for myself (having more under­standing of myself and Asperger’s Syndrome helps here too). I still dread the day when my son becomes more ‘socialised’ and I have to deal with the chaos of talking to, man­aging or even being in the pres­ence of mul­tiple chil­dren (I shudder to think of having them in the sanc­tuary of my own home) but I guess I will cope.

    Things are cer­tainly not always easy, but I’ve gotten better as things have become more stable. It’s still a fine bal­ance, but I’m lucky in that my son accepts my issues and doesn’t even see them as such…so far. My partner also takes on a lot of the day to day (as well as holding down a full-time job) and I’ve learned a lot from her about how she man­ages things. The first few years was basi­cally me copying her behav­iours, like I’ve done so many times before socially in my life. With a less under­standing partner or a child with more of his/her own issues it could have all been very dif­ferent. In the first years, I wor­ried a lot about my son having his own devel­op­mental issues — as I felt it would be a bad cock­tail with my own issues — but so far this doesn’t seem to be the case.

    The one issue I’m wrestling with is how I can pos­sibly having a child, a rela­tion­ship and a job all at the same time. I feel like two out of the three might be all I can ever sus­tain and that per­haps I need to settle for that. But I feel my nat­ural autistic chil­dren (my ideas) are suf­fering somehow…but it cer­tainly helps to write about it!

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