I know many people who don’t know autism do not think of autistics as adults with families of their own. When it is mentioned, I bristle at the idea that I, or anyone else, is raising a family in spite of autism, so I thought I’d give a short, incomplete list of reasons why my autism makes me a better parent.
1. I have less expectations than non-autistics.
As a child, I never played with dolls, thought I’d get married, or imagined being a mommy. I didn’t raise children because having kids was what people are supposed to do when they grow up. I did it because I am needed, and parenting is one of the only things to ever come naturally to me. I have never thought ahead to my child’s first day of school, dance recital, football game, or prom. Although all three of my biological children were non verbal or semi verbal in their preschool years, I never felt the need to mourn the child I imagined I would have. I simply made note, got appropriate help when needed, and let them find their own pace.
2. I truly listen.
All the time to each and every word. In all honesty, I don’t have another option. That point where someone is rambling on and on and it all sounds like “blah, blah, blah”? Nope. I hear and process it all. When I can’t hear well enough to process, it makes me so overwhelmed, I have to stop my child and tell them I can’t listen right now, but I’ll come back to them in a few minutes. Anything else, to me, would be dishonest.
3. Gentle, constant honesty
I can’t lie, but that doesn’t mean I run around tactlessly blurting out truths in a hurtful way. My children sometimes don’t like what I have to say. If they have not put in a full effort, I call them on it, and if their actions are hurtful to someone, I let them know. However, my kids never doubt me. Promises are few and far between around here, but they do not get broken. When my children receive praise, it is genuine and not effusive.
4. Lack of embarrassment
The handful of times I’ve been embarrassed in my life, it has always been due to an intellectual slip up on my part. I have sympathy for the parent who is mortified when their child has a public meltdown, but on a personal level, I can’t wrap my head around it. Do I get dirty looks in the grocery store? Sure. I’ve had appalled neurotypical friends point it out to me, but I don’t notice and don’t care. I’m on my third child who has less than ideal public displays. I have been escorted out of retail establishments, yelled at by strangers, and had the police called on me several times all due to my children’s issues. Inconvenient, exhausting, and occasionally heartbreaking? Yes. Embarrassing? No. Therefore, how I handle these issues is not influenced by outside pressure. I handle each one based on that child’s needs, motivations and skill set.
5. Super hearing
Did that child really think they could get by with that without me knowing? Think again, dear one.
6. I don’t rely on my “executive functioning” or lack thereof.
I write things down. On bad days, the to do list includes items like “brush hair”. My calendar contains appointments set for things like renewing prescriptions and which day of the week my older son stays after school (even though it’s the same day every week). I actually remember everything, but everything is too much to keep prioritized. I don’t assume any task is too easy to screw up. When I do screw up, I work hard to forgive my imperfections. (I have a long way to go on that.)
7. Time management
Here is my autistic secret weapon. I have a near savant like sense of time. If you ask me to demonstrate or prove it, you will be met with a blank stare in which you should infer many four letter words are silently being thrown your way. I’m not a show pony or an autism novelty act. I don’t need clocks or watches to know what time it is or how much time has passed. I can accurately estimate the time any given task will take, and I am rarely wrong. In my head is a constant awareness of each second. I have to concentrate to not focus on it. I have no ‘I lost track of time’ moments, but they sound quite tranquil, and I’m envious of yours. Since this internal clock is my tool, I’m going to use it. If I’m late, there’s a good chance I had a meltdown. Yes, I still do that. No apologies, it comes with the territory, and I’m not supermom.