As an educator, I’ve had countless opportunities to work and interact with so many loving, supportive, and fearless mothers who are raising an autistic child/ren. A family with autistic children can experience more stress than other families and the mothers are faced with more challenges. When you ask them, how they are? often the answer is “fine!”. The truth behind the “fine” is they are feeling frightened and uncertain of what the future holds for their child. They feel grief for all the things their children may have missed out on and all the things they may never get to experience. They feel that it is them against the world—after years of fighting the system for their child to get a fair education and they’re still fighting, they feel frustration and exhaustion. They fear judgement and harsh criticism from family members and their community who do not understand that there is no one size fits all when parenting an autistic child.
As a community, it’s time we uncloak the other side of autism—the reality of what it is like to be a parent of a child on the spectrum. Life can get a little crazy sometimes and we do get stuck in our own bubble, but we all know how small acts of love and kindness can go a long way—I’ve crafted some ideas to bring a little more gratitude, love, and support for the mothers on this fulfilling and yet challenging journey. Show them that we see them —they are appreciated and most importantly let them know that they’re not alone.
Let her Grieve
If the child has recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is important to note that the mother will be mourning, despite her going about with her everyday tasks. All parents dream for their child to grow up to be a happy, healthy, successful, and independent adult. Imagine going from typical parents’ dream to wondering if your child will ever be able to live on his/her own, maintain a job, have a relationship, attend school, or even speak. There is grief there. Treat her as you would any person going through tough times.
“It’ll be all right”, “it is what it is”, “everything happens for a reason”— platitudes don’t make her feel better. These remarks will shut her down and she will suppress her feelings and fears hence will not feel comfortable telling you “she is not OK”. Instead tell her, “I get you”, “I feel you” and “I acknowledge your struggles and fears”.
Don’t Isolate her
Invite her out as you normally would. Do not avoid her, assuming that she is tired and wants her space. If you give her space, without asking her if she wants space, she will feel rejected and isolated.
Include her child
A mother with an autistic child wants her child to have a typical life experience with everyday people as much as possible. Invite her child to the birthday parties, playdates, or picnics. She will decide if her child will turn up or not. Don’t make that decision for her. Treat her child the same way as other children, unless she asks you to treat her child differently, it should be business as usual.
Offer to babysit occasionally if the child has a good relationship with you. Create opportunities for her to experience some “Me time”. Remember she is in it for the long haul, and it is tough, so self-care is a necessity. Help her get a little bit of free time if you are in a position to do so.
Call her often. If you can, check in with her daily. Ask her how she’s feeling. LISTEN to her, don’t interrupt. Let her know that she can cry and vent to you—knowing she has someone who can handle her emotional break downs makes her feel less alone. Drop by, bring her a bottle of wine or some pastry or have a cup of tea or coffee a cup of tea. Sit with her, even if she is too exhausted to have a conversation, let her know it’s OK. Just be present with her and enjoy the moment and the company.
“Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you’ve got someone to just sit
with you and be there for you” ~Piglet~ Return to the Hundred Acre Wood
Always be humble in everything you Think, Say and Do!
Enda Gilbert-Rosette has been an educator for 25 years. She has a BA in Education and a Masters in Education specialising in English as an Additional Language and Dialect and Learning Difficulties from Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia. Enda is the Deputy Principal at a Senior High Class in Perth. Her passion is connecting with the community and family she works with, and she values the role of mothers as she firmly believes that they are the anchor of the family.