Autism: A Difficult Gift
I think every parent has moments when they feel as though they have failed, but when your child is autistic those moments come more often:
Is there more I should be doing?
What if I had recognised my child’s issues earlier?
Are there treatments or programs I should investigate?
Will medication help or hinder my child’s wellbeing?
•What do I need to do or understand to help my child more?
Then there are the ‘if only’s’:
If only my child could communicate more clearly so I could understand and help them.
If only my child was normal so I could be like other parents and enjoy their performances.
If only my child responded to her parents, grandparents, siblings.
Sometimes it’s the expression on stranger’s faces when they look at a 5-year old sitting in a trolley, throwing a tantrum, walking barefoot in winter, dressed as a dragon waving strips of paper around, or eating while we walk around the supermarket that makes me feel like a failure. I know it will only get worse as Madi and Thomas get older, because they look so normal … even beautiful … that it’s hard for people to realise they live in a different world.
I have to remind myself constantly that outsiders don’t know. They don’t understand who these children are or how hard they struggle to fit in. I have to extend compassion to them and try not to judge them as harshly and instinctively as they are clearly judging me.
Our twenty-first century world is not made for autistic children (or adults) and, despite the increasing rate of diagnosis, many people have no idea what autism actually looks like or the impact it has on the whole family.
I call it the ‘difficult gift’ because when we look beyond the obvious challenges, many people living with autism also have a gift of wonder, focus, and emotional sensitivity that could transform our perspective (if we let it). Many autistic children look completely normal… until something happens that upsets them and they simply lose control. For those around them this is an everyday reality and it can be upsetting.
Eating. Playing. Getting dressed. Going shopping. Special occasions at school. Interruptions to imaginary play. Family events. There is always the sense of: “What is going to happen next?” which adds extra tension to the day when you are with an autistic child.