OK, yes, I agree that my previous post on parenting problems was somewhat lacking in substance.
Firstly, I failed to explain that my topic was solely on the difficulties of being an autistic parent. Not an “autism parent” (parent of a child with autism), but a parent who is on the spectrum themselves. The post was not intended to address any of the complexities around raising autistic children.
Secondly, while I listed some typical autistic traits which can make parenting difficult, I failed to propose any solutions. Which, I have to agree, makes the post somewhat lacking for any fellow AS parent looking for tips, or for family and friends looking to offer support.
So let’s go a bit further.
Talking about the ways in which autism can adversely affect parenting still seems very dangerous, so I’m feeling the need to repeat myself here. Every parent in the world has issues that affect their parenting, whether they have ASD or OCD, NPD or PTSD, or are just plain immature. If you dare use my post to suggest that autism, of itself, prevents a person from being a good parent, I will personally come round and tie up your cat’s whiskers and kidnap your flowers, comprende?
Right, now I’ve got that out the way (removed my 1920s fedora, stubbed out my cuban cigar, and brushed off my lapels), here are some ideas on parenting strategies for those with AS:
Strategy 1: Enlist Partner Support
If you are lucky enough to have a supportive partner, enlist their help. Work out (for each of you) your parenting strengths and weaknesses – or list the parenting activities you enjoy, dislike, and absolutely can’t stand. Distribute tasks in a way that maximises enjoyment and minimises pain for you both, as far as you can.
That may mean some unconventional approaches, such as an NT (neurotypical) father arranging playdates instead of the autistic mother. It could mean an NT mother taking on spontaneous activities such as outings while the autistic father looks after those that can be regularly scheduled, such as meals and bedtime routines. The important thing is to go with whatever works for yourselves and the kids, rather than sticking with conventional gender roles.
It’s important to regularly check with your partner that they remain happy with your arrangement. The reality is that the NT partner, without personal experience of AS, may not appreciate the necessity of the support they are being asked to provide, which may be more (or different) than they had anticipated going into the relationship. They can start to feel unappreciated and resentful. So the autistic partner needs to be proactive in asking how their partner is going and being willing to negotiate changes to the arrangements.
On the other hand, where the NT partner refuses to provide the requested support or chooses to stick within the defined roles they may be more accustomed to, the autistic parent needs to be vocal on the level of difficulty they are facing because of their AS. There must be understanding that an autistic parent forced into performing according to normal NT standards without support is risking a burn-out or breakdown.
Strategy 2: Enlist External Support
This is what you will need to do if you don’t have a partner or s/he is not sufficiently supportive. I can’t say much about enlisting external support as personally I’m particularly inept at obtaining such and have typically muddled along without.
What I will say is that for an autistic person it is crucial that any support is regular and consistent rather than chaotic with respect to type, timing or duration. This means that it may need to be provided either by close family members who have sufficient time and motivation (such as retired grandparents), or by paid arrangement with a service provider. Many types of informal supports fall down through being of an ad-hoc nature which is insufficiently reliable, or through reliance on friendships or social networks, which an autistic may struggle to maintain.
If a parent is self-diagnosed and in need of external support, I do believe it is worthwhile seeking a diagnosis if that might improve access to formal assistance. However, do not disclose your autism to those involved in child welfare. There is too much scope to mistake your need for support as a parenting problem which might endanger the kids.
Strategy 3: Keep Trying (the power of persistence)!
Parenting is all about learning on the job – so it’s important to see oneself as capable of improvement. That doesn’t mean struggling to overcome autistic limitations and become neurotypical – because it’s impossible to overcome a neurological difference. “Improvement” means learning work-arounds and compensation strategies. Don’t try to break past your limitations; sneak around them while they’re looking the other way.
So whatever the parenting issue, keep trying strategies until you find ones that work. In fact, employing strategies to get around your AS in other aspects of life can also be a blessing by freeing up your energy to attend to your kids. What I mean is things like:
- setting reminders and alarms to help you leave work on time and transition from work tasks to home tasks, or from housework to child care
- have a written or visual schedule of childcare tasks to keep on track
- sort out a system for keeping track of finances and paying bills on time with minimum fuss
- streamline shopping trips to get as much in one go as possible, or shop online
- if you’re struggling to understand the emotional needs of your kids, try to regularly ask them how they feel or get them to use emotion cue cards
- indulge obsessions while the kids indulge theirs – read a favourite book or podcast at their athletics class. Or better still, encourage them to share your own interests so you can indulge them together
- become comfortable with the kids’ social lives by setting rules over activities and durations and loosening these up over time as you gain confidence
- as the kids get old enough to understand AS, be honest about your difficulties and enlist their support. They will come to appreciate the benefits of a less frazzled parent
Frankly, for any parent with AS, there are going to be times when you are too overwhelmed to do the right thing. There may be meltdowns or shutdowns when you yell at the kids or shut them out. Crushingly, there may be times when you have to deny the kid something important to them, because your limitations do not allow you to provide it. That is the nature of AS.
When it happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. nobody can be a perfect parent, or even a good parent, 100% of the time. And kids are resilient, as long as they know they are loved. Just look back afterwards and try to understand what went wrong and learn from it. Might there have been a work-around? What could you have done differently? Could you have enlisted help?
Ultimately, you need to give yourself a break – and recognise that it’s not easy being a parent with AS. As long as you have your kids’ needs at heart, you’re doing great. Just keep trying.