When my child was younger, everything seemed so hard. He didn't hold a bottle, sit up, walk or talk on the pediatrician's timeline. We did physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. I asked every provider I could, "Why does he repeat phrases?" "Why does he like playing with doors, but not toys? I asked, "Could it be autism? And they said no.
I was trying to help him eat. Why was eating hard for him? Why did he refuse solid foods? Why would he eat one brand of pureed green beans, but not another? Why did he never ask for food? People said he would eat if he was hungry enough. They said I was spoiling him.
I was trying to help him sleep. Why did he wake up terrified? Why couldn't he sleep? All the parenting experts told me I was doing it wrong. They said I shouldn't rock him, pick up him up or co-sleep. They said I was reinforcing poor sleep habits. They said I caused his anxiety.
I was trying so hard. And everywhere I turned, I heard that I was doing it wrong.
That is the landscape of parenting an autistic child, a child who is misunderstood, mislabeled and mistreated. When society doesn't understand the reasons behind behavior, it's the child's fault. And it's the parent's fault. We get used to people not believing our experience, finding little help and feeling like we have failed our child.
That landscape needs to change.
It is not parents who are failing. We didn't create the model of autism that says they are Not Normal and must learn to be Normal. We didn't create a developmental timeline that doesn't allow for variations for those children that just need more time. We didn't look at the outside behavior and ignore the inside neurology.
What if, instead, you had been told this:
You've done nothing wrong. You didn't cause this. You haven't failed your child. You were given an instruction manual for a Ford and your child is a Ferrari. So, congratulations! Your child is NOT fundamentally different from other children. You just need the right instruction manual. Parenting your child will be more intense. You'll need more patience and time. Your child will have intense emotions and needs. But he'll also have intense curiosity, drive, determination, desire, persistence and individuality. What you'll need to find is the right fuel, the right environment and the right supports. With those, your child has great potential. With the right supports, he will have a happy and fulfilling life.
All that is true. You'll need to read it again. And you'll need to read it to your family, friends and school system. You'll need to read it to the experts. You'll need to read it loudly and frequently – because they need to know.
This post was previously published on The Huffington Post and has been republished with full permission.
Brenda Rothman is a writer and public speaker with a background in health law and rhetoric. She blogs about her child who is diagnosed with autism at Mama Be Good, here. She has written for The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism (published 2011) and The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism blog. Her essays have been featured by BlogHer and Parenting.com's blog. Brenda has advocated for autism support in front of legislators, professionals, and educators. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and son.