Today is a slightly different type of article. It is still about autism, but I am not going to tell you how to do anything. I am going to tell you how to do nothing.
It started over tea. She wanted to have a tea party. But she didn’t want to use water. That’s for babies! She wanted me to make tea. Which I couldn’t do, I was helping her older sister with her Algebra. Part of homeschooling is taking turns. My daughter, at 7, isn’t always good with that. High-functioning autism makes it difficult to wait. When it is her turn, she expects everyone else to wait. But make her wait? If she has to, a meltdown may be imminent. She will extract her pound of flesh, one way or another. Of course, it passed. It always does. But the aftermath for me is the hardest part. The way I am left feeling: drained, defeated, ready to cry.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset. She hasn’t had a tantrum all week long. Her dad was gone for ten days and in that time, she has been fine. We have had a few missteps here and there, but no full blown I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU episodes. Maybe that means she is getting older. Maybe that means the developmental delay that is Autism Spectrum Disorder is righting itself. Maybe that means the naked chanting that I did by melting green crayon and throwing sheets to the wind has paid off. (I am just kidding about that last part.) Maybe it’s just that the tide is high and the moon is low. I really don’t know.
And that’s part of the problem. If you ask me a question about grammar or algebra or llama breeding, I can probably tell you. I write articles on autism, some consider me an expert. (I don’t consider myself that, at all!) But if I don’t know something, I can usually find out, I strive for knowledge. It’s power. So I can usually find out what I need to know, most of the time. But as far as the exact reason my daughter is tantrumming, or the tried and true foolproof method of stopping said fit, that seems to be missing on Google. Certainly there are suggestions, but what if they don’t work? What then? With children, you don’t add A to B and necessarily get C.
If I was a carpenter, I would be sure that I have the latest tools, the best ones to get the job done. A hammer will always work as a hammer. A level, well, that’s designed for leveling. With just a few simple gadgets, a carpenter can build many things. With a few more, he becomes a master craftsman. It can take a lifetime to wield the tools correctly. But even if his skill is only passable, he will be able to create a chair. People will recognize it as such, and it will work.
As a parent, I work hard to develop my parenting skills. I think if had neurotypical children I would be a pretty good parent. I add tools to my toolbox often. They say if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. I am guilty of this at times. But a soft word or patience? Those don’t always work. In truth, there are times that I run out of tools in my toolbox. I keep thinking if I just gain more gadgets, if I just learn more schematics, I will, eventually, build the Taj Mahal. But with autism? All bets are off. Sometimes, a level ends up as a fulcrum. Or a hammer ends up as a paper weight. Sometimes, I end up dancing around like a monkey because I have to think outside the box. Down is up, and and Left is Right and OhMyGod is Daddy home yet?
I wish I could be one of those parents who doesn’t micro-examine every one of her own actions to find if she can improve every exchange she has with her children. But I can’t. It is in my nature to question everything. And that includes my own parenting. That’s why it is so difficult when I reach the end of the toolbox and find nothing but sandpaper and a ball ping hammer. I do care, and it kills me and I always wonder, why can’t I be a better parent? Why can’t I help her calm down before she gets to that place where she is completely unreasonable? Why must I be left feeling like a hollow shell with every nerve exposed? What am I doing wrong?
And that’s when I realize, asking the questions is the one thing I do right. I don’t have all the answers. But sometimes, coming face to face with my humanity, my frailty, is one of the best things I can do for my parenting. Sometimes, all I can do is hold my child. No words, no corrections, no expectations. And it’s enough.
Remember that the next time it all falls apart… just let it fall, leave it lie and hold your child with autism closely. Barring that, if he doesn’t like to be touched, sit as close to him as he will allow. Return back to the love you have for this child, and for his welfare. Remember who you are, and who he is. And grant yourself some grace. Grace to get it wrong, and still love your child anyway. It’s the best thing you can do for the both of you.
photo copyright PatryshaHandmade, flickr, cc.
Tina Cruz is a writer, wife and mother of three children. The two youngest children have high-functioning autism and the oldest has undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome tendencies. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the editor of the Special Needs channel here at Typeamom. Her personal blog can be found at Send Chocolate. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.