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Autism: Autistic Parents

18 Jun

The question was:  What are the pros and cons of autistic people having children.

The pros and cons are likely different for each of us, as they are for NTs.

I had a son (at age 19 years 6 months 1 day.) I also ran a daycare for several years, and tried to adopt through child welfare (had the children in my home for 3 years, but never got finalization, and the adoption failed.)

Some pros: Good at maintaining a routine.

Good at making/keeping appointments.

Good with structured activities (reading, singing, crafts, games, cooking, etc.)

Good at teaching.

Read to my son every day (often many times a day) from birth until right before his 14th birthday.

Understood HIS struggles better than most people could, even though we are very different people.

Research! Whatever I am interested in, I research – which, when my son was little, was children. I researched so deeply that when I took my Early Childhood Education at college (when my son was 2–4 years old) everything was review, and I graduated with dean’s honours.

I took my son to playgroup, to the park a lot, to the children’s museum… I put him in soccer, swimming, cubs, youth group, had birthday parties (and I have severe social phobia, and parties are especially hard.) I made an effort like most parents do – and I absolutely loved/love all of my children.

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Some cons: It is very difficult for me to communicate well (especially long term) with other adults. I become more anxious as time goes by, which causes people to stop trusting me (I don’t trust others, with good reason.) This had a lot to do with our adoption failure (I wasn’t diagnosed until after – and it is likely they wouldn’t have allowed me to try to adopt if they knew, though I very much disagree with that.)

I research a lot, and write a lot – which overwhelmed other adults trying to work with our family (again in adoption.)

When I get overwhelmed, I shut down – like when my son was born, I was in shock for a couple of weeks. I took care of him, but couldn’t think or focus well. I could have used a lot more help there.

I get overwhelmed easily, and don’t do well at all without sleep. I could have used some help there (my son didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes at a time for his first year.) Many new parents are exhausted. Autistic people might need a lot more support to be able to cope well.

I get overwhelmed easily (I know I am repeating, but this is the struggle.) So when we had 3 high needs foster kids, plus my undiagnosed autistic son, plus myself – I could maintain OUR schedule most of the time so none of us were falling apart, but then we would have the social workers step in and ask to do several things at once because it was more convenient for them – we would all end up falling apart after. Too many appointments at once, people not understanding our need for routine (which is good for children) can cause failure. It is a con. This is on me, I see that – but some understanding in this could make all the difference between success and failure. Again – support. Someone else to deal with an overabundance of appointments/understanding to ensure not too much is asked at once…

When I am overwhelmed, I can’t do everything. I could take care of my child, but for a long time could not keep my apartment clean at the same time. Later I could take care of my home and child, but having to work on top of that was too much. Too many appointments = too much. A lot of life is “too much.” Extra help and supports are often needed for success – as well as understanding that we can’t do it all, though many parents are expected to.

Social skills. Likely someone else will be needed in the child’s life to deal with important social events. As I mentioned, I took my children to a lot of activities – in my mind. The social workers said I was isolating them. I still don’t understand that as we went out a lot – and the summer they said that, I drove across the country, and took my children to visit a lot of family, and go on a lot of outings. I wasn’t diagnosed at the time – if I had been, I might have accepted that I have a ‘blind spot’ in this area. Having someone else to plan birthday parties, play dates, help communicate with teachers and specialists, etc. would be important for the children, and helpful for an autistic parent (so as not to overwhelm them.)

Sensory issues. I have a lot, and many surround smells and foods – especially foods. Personally I could deal with changing messy diapers. I got really fast at this with the daycare, and would NEVER leave a child in a mess – but that is because I am hypersensitive. Someone who is not so sensitive might need help in keeping the children clean. For foods, there are many I can’t have around me (boxed Kraft Dinner – generic included, mushrooms, hamburger, eggs – I am allergic…) For children to have some of these experiences, it would need to be apart from me. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t be a good parent.

Fixations. Rules. Okay… especially when anxious (made worse by judgmental people who don’t understand) I have a really hard time being flexible around rules. For instance, when our children were placed with us, they had very strong attachment issues. We were told not to let other people watch our children, or give them anything (toys, food, etc.) for at least 6 months to allow the children time to settle. So that is what I did – and everyone got upset with me.

Or there is the fact that I can see connections that other people don’t. When my children had sugar, for instance, I could feel it coming off them in waves – even if no one told me they gave it to them. Sugar strongly affected their behaviour, and made things harder, so I didn’t give them sugar. Ever. The same goes for wheat (not gluten, just wheat.) I sweetened with applesauce, or rice syrup, or something. I gave them other grains – rice, millet, chickpea, quinoa… but NEVER wheat.

I got in lots of trouble for that, and others saw it as being rigid and controlling. Perhaps it was – but… understanding and support can go a long way. Understanding that many autistic people can see patterns and connections that other people are unaware of (so don’t dismiss what we are experiencing even if you don’t see it.) I requested a dietitian. Some understanding and support could have gone a long way in getting all of us through this – whether we ended up giving the children sugar and/or wheat, or they provided better alternatives. We (autistic people) tend to get ‘stuck’ in our rules. We see why they are there, and the more attacked we feel, the more ‘stuck’ we get.

It might take more outside support, and a lot more understanding for Autistic parents to succeed – but we can do very well as parents (even thrive) with the right supports and understanding. In fact, being a parent was the single most fulfilling experience of my life – and losing my children through adoption failure the single most traumatic.

In conclusion I believe people with autism can make excellent parents – with good supports and understanding in place – and having children can be such a positive, growing experience for (some) autistic people that I believe it is tragic to deny (us) that experience rather than provide the supports needed for us to succeed.

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