On World Autism Awareness day, I’ve had the sudden realisation that this day is for my son.
While he has been in my life for four years, his diagnosis has been with us for less than one.
This is how it feels to be an ‘other’ mother – a mother navigating the quiet, messy reality that is raising an almost-but-not-quite neurotypical child.
Watch: What life is like with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Post continues below.
My heart beats faster. My throat feels full. I consciously lift the corners of my mouth, widen my eyes, and take a quick breath.
I’m out with my four-year-old. He’s tired, he has the ‘wrong’ pants on, he’s hungry and I just realised we don’t have his dummy on us. I’m not sure which of us is feeling more freaked out.
This is life with a child who is not neurotypical.
Constant quiet panic. Shameful resentment. Smiling through waves of suppressed tears. Envious glances at other parents with their straightforward, ‘by the book’ kids.
It isn’t like what people imagine, or see from the outside – it’s quieter, sadder, messier, far more complex and just plain different.
The ongoing 'as a mother' debate has a whole other dimension not considered by most of us who weigh into it.
We think about motherhood as binary – you are or you aren’t. But the shades of grey are so much more complex than that.
‘As a mother’ of a little kid on the autism spectrum, I can tell you one thing: I have as much in common with a woman who has no children as I do with a woman who has neurotypical children.
I have one of both, and the experience of parenting with each child could not be more different.
My Jack, four, is classified as a neuroatypical child.
When he was three, after three years of wondering why I was so terrible at this whole motherhood thing, he was diagnosed with sensory challenges, and ‘high-functioning’ autism.
The diagnosis was a shock, and strangely, a relief – my worst fears (having a child who is not ‘normal’) combined with a secret sense of relief (it’s not me – it’s him).
Life with Jack is a constant challenge.
But because life is not Hollywood, it’s a challenge in subtle, pressing, brain-draining ways – thanks to his anxious tendencies, he’s always within a few feet of me.