Well, truthfully, autism happened to my daughter, not to me. Except it did happen to me, too. No, I don’t have to walk the daily tightrope to balance hyper- and hypo- responsive sensory needs. No, I don’t know the complete out-of-control pain of sensory overload and meltdown. And no, I don’t have to figure out how to maneuver through a social world that I don’t understand. But, I do have to parent my child through all these things.
Many days, I’m still at the point where I feel resentful and put-upon. How much can one mom take? Why do I have to be the emotional regulator for my regularly dysregulated child? Why can’t I just have the family that can go to a park on a whim and stay out all day with only minor arguments? Why does everything have to be so hard? To be clear – I don’t feel resentful toward my daughter. It’s not her fault. I’m just resentful at some amorphous thing that has been labeled autism. Most days I’d really like to just start over; give my sacrifices to whatever neurological god I need to, so my daughter could be wired differently. And this is why I hate to admit that my daughter’s autism, has indeed, been the best thing that’s happened to me.
But, here it is. The truth. Deep down inside, my more spiritually mature self, is grateful for autism. I am grateful for my growth. I am grateful for it highlighting all of my weaknesses and limitations. I am grateful for it smashing those threads of perfectionism that were still whispering in my ear. Has it been fun? Ha! Absolutely not! Do I wish there were an easier way? Only five hundred thirty-two thousand times a day. But, here’s my list of what autism has done for me:
First – I am less judgmental and more compassionate. And this is a funny one for me. Because I always thought there wasn’t a judgmental bone in my body. I prided myself on being compassionate, on meeting people where they are, and on looking for the stories underneath the behaviors. But, autism has forced me to be honest with myself. Before autism, 90% of me felt compassion toward parents who told me “I’ve tried everything and nothing works! He just won’t (fill in the blank).” But, 10% of me would be thinking, “well, they’re obviously doing something wrong. They probably need to be more consistent. They are the parents – what do they mean they can’t get their child to (fill in the blank).” After autism – 100% of me commiserates and compassionately says, “Yep. I get it. Sometimes nothing works and we just need to ride out the storm, doing our best to keep everyone safe.”
Second – I am more patient . . . most days. I really thought I was a patient person. People have complimented on my patience. But, it really took the daily grind of my daughter’s anxiety management strategy of obstinacy to show that my fuse is shorter than I believed. Yes, I can be patient when my patience isn’t really tested. But, each of us has our triggering points and to be able to breathe and be patient in the face of those, is a whole ‘nother ball game. We can’t change things if we don’t know about them. Autism has shone a light on my impatience, and therefore I’m actually able to learn and implement more strategies to be more patient.
Third – I am more spiritually grounded. I, personally, have always been a spiritually reflective person. Growing up in the Christian church, I remember being 5 years old and praying for clarity on the whole triune god, trinity, three-in-one thing. But, until I clung to faith from a place of desperation. Until my faith has really been the only thing that allows me to put one foot in front of the other. Until I was fully broken in the daily grind of hours long meltdowns and uncertainty, I never really knew what faith was. Autism has brought me more fully aware and has forced me to be more faithful. Faithful in the hope that we’ll find another strategy to make things a little easier, and faithful in the assurance that helping my daughter find her way is not my responsibility alone, and faithful in the peace and joy that is present in every situation.
Fourth – I am practicing what I preach. I have long been a proponent of radical acceptance and mindfulness. And, I have often been a practitioner of these two things. I have meditated. I have grounded myself with breath. I have been able to see the pros and cons in every situation and believed I could fully accept most things. And then autism happened. Radically accepting that this is what my family looks like is a daily choice. Radically accepting that my daughter’s behaviors are the result of her disability and not of my parenting failure or her innate snotty-ness requires me to constantly turn my mind toward mindful awareness and acceptance. Truth is, life is always more peaceful, contented, and stable when we can embrace a mindful and accepting lifestyle.
Fifth – I necessarily have to keep growing. Life can easily become complacent. Us humans generally don’t like change. We can become creatures of habit and then our lives become stuck. It is painful to grow and it is painful to evolve, so we choose not to. Except when we don’t have a choice. Autism has given me no choice. I am constantly growing. And because of that, I am a better person. Yes. Autism has made me a better person. I wish my daughter didn’t have to struggle so much. I wish there was an easier, less painful way for me to continue growing, but there hasn’t been. And so, begrudgingly, I am thankful for autism. It has, indeed, been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.