There is no guidance manual for parenting.
No two children are alike, even if they are born within the same family, which is why it is said that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Every family encounters different challenges regardless of social status or functional ability. This appears to be simply one of those facts of life – we all have challenges to overcome – the only difference is the scale.
It is understood that children with special needs require a lot more assistance compared to children without disabilities. Parents of disabled children often must endure, that which most of us can only imagine. Whenever the terms ‘parenting’ and ‘autism’ are linked together, we discuss what it is like to raise children with autism. We discuss the daily challenges, societal preconceptions, and the impact that it has on our children and the rest of our family. Sometimes, adults with autism express the aspiration to become parents but are worried about the responsibility and uncertainty that comes hand in hand with having a child.
It has been increasingly reported that women are being diagnosed with autism because their child had been through the process, and the women recognised the traits within themselves. My daughter was 10 years old by the time I was diagnosed and so far, there has never been any concern relating to her development, behaviour, or social skills.
When I was pregnant, long before I knew anything about autism, my mother remarked humorously that it would be perfect payback when my daughter reaches the dreaded ‘terrible twos’ because when I was that age, it was as if aliens had abducted me overnight replaced me with a dreadful clone. We were all a bit baffled, but grateful nonetheless, when my daughter remained the happy, bubbly, and carefree little lady that she is today.
I have read somewhere that there is the suggestion that autistic people should not have children because the condition removes the ability to raise a child. If it takes a whole village to help normal parents raise a normal child, how is it any different for an autistic parent? It is true that in my case, the breakdown in the relationship with her father was not something I would wish upon my enemy – and yet, I still would not change a single thing even if I could.
Judge my ability as a parent by the quality of my child’s life. This is a child who has been published in Young Writers anthology twice and is a self-taught artist and animator. She has just been accepted into an Academy that is in partnership with the University I attend; it is basically a mini-university itself. Her teachers at school wish they could have a 100 more like her and she has always behaved well at home.
Many children are raised with an estranged parent yet autism is not a common reason for the social situations that create single-parent families. Social problems with what the government like to call ‘broken families’ are a whole other issue that has little do to with autism – at least there is no current evidence to suggest there is a connection. It is absurd to go around suggesting that anyone with broken social relationships could be autistic because (aside from being a partial understanding on how autism manifests) it perpetuates the suggestion that autistic people should not have children because of the potential instability of relationships. This is dangerous because it implies that when autistic people have children and then the relationship breaks down, the children would need to be taken away. Not only is this preposterous but it causes more harm than good.
Maybe being autistic makes me a better parent because strict routines are essential for encouraging good behaviour in disciplined children. I always would explain to my daughter the exact reasons why I told her what to she can and cannot do. When she was three months old, for example, she crawled towards a lit candle that was within her reach. I told her “no” a couple of times – she just looked at me blankly and continued her pursuit. I picked her up and said; “Look, it is hot. Ouch” and I took her hand and allowed her to feel the heat above the flame. I further explained: “We light candles because they smell nice and they are pretty, so we just look at it and enjoy the smell. We do not touch it either; look.” I placed her back on the floor a few feet away from the candle and sat back down. She glanced at me, looked at the candle and then crawled towards her toys and carried on playing. Every now and then she would sit back and just look at the candle for a few seconds and wander off on her next adventure. She never did try it again.
Even when my daughter was a baby, I talked to her clearly and in full sentences like you would an adult, so it was no surprise that she was well spoken from a young age. I always told her about everything I was learning and explained in detail why good is good and why naughty is bad. Did I do this because I am autistic or because I am a philosopher? If the latter is correct it still can be suggested that I am a philosopher because I am autistic therefore even indirectly the results speak for themselves.
It has been suggested that there is a genetic cause of autism, which seems to imply that an autistic person having a child, greatly increases the chance that the child will have autism too. This is apparent as demonstrated by the women who are diagnosed through their children. There is still a chance that my daughter may also be autistic, however, as she has not demonstrated any of the symptoms from an early age, does this exclude the possibility that she is autistic? Perhaps I have raised her in an environment that is tailored to autism automatically which has built resilience that has completely masked the condition or stopped it from manifesting.
My daughter and I do share traits that can be associated with autism such as having intense interests. Has my daughter developed these behaviours because she is predisposed to autism or because she is simply learning from me? She is growing up in a home where Assassin Creed merchandise, Marvel Lego and comics are on prominent display. I think I own more books than items of clothes – half my living room is a library. We are a household gamers and geeks – who are stereotypically associated with autistic traits such as social isolation and awkwardness. As with most stereotypes, there is little truth in the reality of those who are judged according to those generalisations.
When we make assertions about what it means to be a good parent, we make a judgement on what it is to cause harm. Those who are against same-sex couples having children often argue that it is ‘damaging’ to raise a child in such a home. The same argument applies to single parents and parents with disabilities. The people who make such statements are never themselves affected by this state of affairs, and probably have never experienced anything like that which they are so vehemently against. Not only is this irrational but it follows in the same vein as racism – it is based on fear, hate and ignorant prejudice.
I have always believed that we ought to practice what we preach and only form opinions based on a rational analysis of our experiences, with a respectful comparative examination of opposing experiences. This way, we can form a network of perpetual learning and mutual understanding that stretches throughout all social experiences.
What is it like to be an autistic parent? The same as any other parent really – it is hard work but rewarding in the most beautiful ways.
According to my daughter; I’m a cool mom.