Let’s play a word association: autism and moms. What comes to mind?
For many people, it’s a specific picture. Namely, a non-autistic parent decked out in blue, puzzle pieces galore. They often tweet, post, and retweet jokes about chicken nuggets and lamentations about their saintly sacrifices. They’re quick to defend ABA, quicker still to dismiss autistic adults’ criticisms. (Note: this doesn’t apply to all parents, just a vocal subset).
What you don’t hear about as much are moms who are also autistic.
Well, I just became one. I’ve wanted to have children since I was one, but now I feel out of place. Not parening itself– that’s equal parts awesome and challenging– but from a stifilingly neurotypical mom culture.
I blame the Interent. Social media has turned into a competition between who has the most “advanced” children and who can schedule the most enriching activities. It reminds me of reading about martyrs in Catholic school; everyone needs to prove how selfless and sacrificing they are, or risk being labeled a “bad mom” who lets her kids use a tablet and feeds them processed, pre-packaged food. And I specify “mom” for a reason. Society often reinforces this attitude for moms, not dads, no matter how sexist and archaic that is. It also leaves out parents who are nonbinary.
I haven’t felt so much pressure to conform since middle school. It’s a performance, and an exhausting one. I have to hide my true self enough as it is. I don’t need another reason to put on my mask.
Control is another common theme in the competition to best perform the role of mom.
There’s a widely-accepted idea that parents should always control their kids, down to how they play. We treat parenting like a formula, where if a parent does x perfectly, a child is garunteed to achieve y.
As someone with near-crippling anxiety, I get it. As JFK said, “To have a child is to give fate a hostage.” However, I also remember what it’s like to be a kid. I cherished my freedom, and unstructured time was the fertile ground in which my imagination grew. While this might be especially true for neurodivergent kids, I suspect it’s a universal childhood truth.
So it’s no wonder I feel out of place. What comes natrurally to me seems to go agaisnt the new accepted wisdom. The world that wasn’t designed for me– the combination of strong sensory stimuli with the pressure to mask can lead to autistic burnout. I can manage this by taking time to myself and focusing on my interests. I can’t be the perpetually self-sacrificing mom. If I don’t take care of myself, I’ll burnout.
Despite this, I believe there’s strength in autistic parenting. I might stick out from the parenting norm (what else is new?), but that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it can even be a parenting strength.
For example, I can be very empathetic thanks to my challenges growing up in a neurotypical world. That’s a good trait for anyone to have, but it’s essential for parents.
I vividly remember what it’s like to be a child, and can put myself in their thought process. As a parent, I strive to consider my child’s point of view when making decisions that will effect their life. I also won’t subscribe to “one size fits all” parenting styles that I know didn’t work on me as a kid.
Autistic parents can also lead by example. When society dismisses the disabeled, they don’t see our strengths. We are often passionate about our interests, which can encourage children to develop and embrace their own passions.
Taking time to recharge as a parent teaches children to care for their own mental health. As someone who often doesn’t conform to society’s expectations, I can show my children the value in being true to themselves, as well as standing up for what they believe is right, no matter how unpopular.
I’m not saying autistic parents are better ( “better” is a highly subjective concept when it comes to parenting). Like everyone, we have our strengths as well as weaknesses. I needed to remind myself that being different is not a bad thing. Though I still might feel out of place in most mommy groups, I’m happy being me, and I think my baby is happy, too.
That being said, please let me know in the comments if you know any great actually autistic parenting blogs.
- The Hidden Strength of Autistic Moms in a Neurotypical Mom Culture - September 13, 2021
- What I Wish Neurotypicals Knew About Meltdowns - February 25, 2021
- Review: The Promise and Disappointment of Everything’s Gonna Be Okay - September 21, 2020
thank you so much for this; i’ve looked for anything that speaks to the experience of parenting while autistic (or neurodivergent); it sounds like you’re a new parent, is that right? if so, CONGRATULATIONS! and, really, even if you’re not, i do congratulate you. i love being a parent, but i’d like to work and talk with people who support parents and who also know something about neurodivergence, and it’s hard to find. my son is 19 now, but he still needs me, and i still want to be a good parent to him. thank you for affirming the perspective of an autistic parent.
Thank you! Yeah, I have a new baby. I also love being a parent (so far). Parenting itself is great– it’s society and outside pressures that make it difficult sometimes.
This is a great blog! I can understand that being a mum on the autistic spectrum can be challenging, but I am sure you are doing well!
Thank you so much!
Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for writing about this! Oh my, I identify. I hope you can find a few blogs. I would love to find them too. The only blogger I know of who is an autistic parent raising kids (at least one of whom is on the spectrum) is Autistic Mama. https://autisticmama.com/
On a separate note, two people I enjoy listening to are:
(1) Meg Proctor at learnplaythrive.com — she is an OT (who I believe is neurotypical) who has an *excellent* podcast called Two Sides of the Spectrum where she interviews many autistics who are themselves experts on something autism-related,
(2) Sarah Selvaggi-Hernandez at The Autistic OT on FB is an amazing autistic OT and professor (who you probably already know of — she is on the advisory committee for Neuroclastic)
Since you wrote that parenting seems to be defined in terms of *controlling* our children, to make them do what we want, you might be interested in the writings of Alfie Kohn, who has been emphatically pushing back against the notion of parenting as controlling children. I have a very well-worn copy of his book “Unconditional Parenting”
Here are some good blogs.
Peace I Give who writes every week most weeks – I discovered them in January 2021
Carla Cram from Australia who wrote Unschooling 101
Also there is Scott Morissot
and C. S. Wyatt who makes the Autistic Me podcast and is a father to two young ladies.
And Joanna Grace and the Sensory Project
[I read her a lot on early childhood education websites].
[and she made a sensory series on Twinkl].
[and a great conference called People Meeting Learning Differently].
And there is Jax Blunt [Live Otherwise] and a woman called Danielle [the latter is a good listener].
Also the Living Arrows channel/blog link-up.
And a woman called Hayley in North Yorkshire.
Thank you for posting!
I am an Autistic and parent of 2.
It is difficult to be seeking like minded Autistics to find only neurotypical moms only ranting about how terrible it is to raise an Autistic.
Have a great day!
I love this blog. Thank you for sharing this. I am an Autistic parent and I write about Autistic experience and parenting, plus lots more on my social media pages Changing The Narrative About Autism and PDA.
Thank you, I’ll be sure to check it out.
Nicely done! Being a parent as an autistic human does have its own challenges, but indeed also gifts as well. I’ve never cared much for fitting into the NT mold and I was frankly always bad at it, so understanding my own neurotype and being able to understand my kids is a blessing.
I do recommend you might look into Autistic, Typing who is an indigenous autistic mother to autistic humans, and also Kristy Forbes who is autistic and also parents neurodivergent children. There are millions of autistic parents out there – we are not a rarity. Society often doesn’t consider autistic folks “able” to grow up to become parents and full members of society, but that is ableism. 🙂
You can find plenty of actually autistic parenting blogs at https://anautismobserver.wordpress.com/
Try out the search links near the top of the page.
Autistic parent of two teenage daughters, one NT and one ND- I know without a doubt that being autistic has made me a better parent to both of them. Thanks for this post!
I enjoyed your post and can identify! I feel incredibly out of place with most of the other moms. Luckily for us, we now homeschool and it has benefited our family tremendously. I like your passage about not controlling our kids. I had a like minded friend over this weekend and our kids spent almost two hours playing with an empty laundry basket. They are 8 and 9, so not young kids. My friend and I shrugged and only stepped in when they were trying to blindly lead each other down the stairs whilst wearing the basket on their heads.
“I cherished my freedom, and unstructured time was the fertile ground in which my imagination grew.”
Jude Clee thank you so much for this perspective. My children are neuro diverse and need a lot of unstructured time out of school. As a mom the culture of being a successful parent and successful children is loading up on activities. My kids so creative but I often feel bad that they aren’t experiencing the world. This article reminds me that they are experiencing the world at their own pace, and that listening to them makes me a good mom. I love neuroclatic.com and I love your perspective please keep writing. The world needs your voice.