I’m an Autistic single Parent and homeschool teacher to my Son, who will be twelve next month!
I feel that my autistic traits make me a better parent and a more creative, inspired and unique educator, better suited to my Son’s needs. I’ve been wanting to blog about this for a while, so I am happy to say that inspiration has arrived in the form of the #AutismPositivity2014 flashblog!
I was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum in 2011, when I was 41 years old. One of my biggest fears about going public about my diagnosis was that it would draw scrutiny against me as a single parent.
I fought hard for custody of my Son when I lived back in Upstate New York, where a single mother does not have custody of her child- she has to petition for it! I went through the process and was awarded custody and the right to relocate. But even though I relocated 1500 miles away, I’ve still lived my Son’s entire life in fear of something (anything) creating a ripple and ending up harming my custody situation. I’ve been scared that going public about being on the Autism Spectrum would end up with me back in the courtroom, shelling out thousands of dollars in legal fees on my credit cards, and spending endless months in tears, anxiety, exhaustion, and despair- all of which would negatively impact my child. That was what fighting for custody of my Son was like when I did it in 2002. I never want to repeat that scenario again.
However, I can’t live my life in fear. I’m autistic, and proud of it.
It doesn’t detract from my abilities to parent my Son. In fact, I believe that it makes me a much better parent. To me, being a parent isn’t about shuttling my Son off to tons of extracurricular activities, slapping “My kid is an honor student” bumper stickers on my car, or pushing my child to be what I think he should be. Too many parents do this. My parents did this to me. As I transitioned into my teen years, my childlike sense of wonder was replaced by depression and feeling out of place. I felt like I had no voice, that I didn’t matter, and that there was no point in living. I’ve never lost those feelings, despite overcoming them. I’ve carried them around with me, tucked neatly somewhere in my brain. And when I became a parent, I vowed that I would not raise my Son in a way that would make him feel invalidated, irrelevant or disrespected.
My Son will be twelve years old in less than a month. What an amazing journey it has been! He is my life’s greatest inspiration. The most important day of my life was the day that he was born, even though it was so frightening and confusing. That was then, this is now. I’ve been a single Mother for most of Connor’s twelve years, other than a two-year nightmare marriage. Our experiences together have made us both stronger and closer. My Son hasn’t been formally diagnosed on the spectrum, but we share very similar neurology. It has allowed us to have a unique bond. No, not the kind where a Mother and Son are overly dependent on each other and a child is smothered. Our bond is based on mutual love and respect. Rather than seeing my Son as a child who isn’t capable of responsibility and contributions, I prefer to see him as a responsible and capable young person, who will be a young man faster than I can probably imagine it.
Through my Son, I’ve been able to reconnect with my childhood in ways that I never imagined. Memories I had buried have leapt forth into my dreams and waking hours. I vividly recall sights, smells, sounds, tastes and emotions associated with my childhood. Being Autistic, I experience these things intensely, and with a great deal of emotion. I share my experiences with my Son.
Because I am Autistic, I am in a state of constant learning, gathering knowledge and information. Every day I learn something new, or venture down a new path of discovery. It never gets old. I feel consistently full of wonder. Seeing that I spend the majority of my time with Connor, as his Mom and homeschool educator, the learning opportunities abound. Learning and living have become easily combined in our lives, as even a walk in the forest becomes an adventure.
Because I am autistic, I have an incredible photographic memory, and the ability to easily learn other languages due to pattern recognition. In the last four years, we’ve traveled to Italy twice, and even lived there for three months! Last Fall, we traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks, where we traveled in the country, hiked in the jungle and stayed for two nights on the BriBri Indian reservation.
Because I am autistic, I feel that the world is without limits. I feel like anything that I put my mind to, I can accomplish. My ability to hyperfocus is legendary, and has allowed me to overcome many obstacles- all of which have directly benefitted our small family. If it were not for this ability, I don’t think I could have started and run a business, or found the strength to start homeschooling my Son. It’s what allows me to on a daily basis, funnel my nervous energy into positive things.
Because I am autistic, I am very creative. Whether is is art, music, dance, or photography, I enjoy it and participate in it myself. I remember the names and artwork of hundreds of artists and composers, thanks to my sharp autistic memory. At ease, I can rattle off information for my Son to learn about, no matter where we are, or what we’re doing. It makes his understanding of the creative world more interactive. It makes him a more sensitive and well-rounded person.
Because I am autistic and have difficulties reading emotions in people’s faces, nothing is hidden in our house when it comes to sharing one’s emotions. The rule is, “If you’re unsure how the other person feels, then make sure you ask them. Don’t assume to know how they feel by what you think their face is telling you”. So we always ask. This keeps the lines of communication open and healthy. My Son knows that he never needs to bury or hide his emotions from me. We openly talk about our emotions and discuss positive ways to express them, and deal with them. Just a week ago, our beautiful rescue dog, Neptune, had to be put to sleep. While I was initially very worried about how Connor was taking his death, I centered myself and tried to remember myself as a child, and came up with a plan of events which I thought would help him better process and deal with his grief. The result? We cried, sobbed, hugged and went through a box of tissues. We talk about Neptune every day and share a memory. We dedicated our garden this year to Neptune’s memory, and spent many hours working together outside planting. We made two beautiful step stones for the garden. We named a star after Neptune, and when we get the certificate, we’ll frame it. We also started volunteering at the Humane Society, where we are socializing and walking the dogs there. All of these things in just one week. And I have to tell you, that Connor’s ability to process his grief, and come to terms with it has astounded me. He’s shown himself to be wise, kind and understanding. He misses Neptune, but knows that the best thing he could have done for his best friend was to let him go peacefully. It is at times like these that I am so grateful for the autistic traits I have, which allow me to feel deeply, think from an alternate perspective, and recall childhood emotions in order to better help my Son through difficult times.
Because I am autistic, and have had a lot of difficulties in my own life, I have very strong feelings about what is just, right and fair. Over the course of time, these same values have been instilled in my Son and I frequently find him pondering more advanced topics such as politics, religion, social injustice, gender bias, and many other topics that you just wouldn’t expect an eleven year old to be concerned with. He not only enjoys discussing world events and rather deep subject matter, but he researches these things on his own, on the computer. Just like me, he’s always searching. His mind is never at rest, even when it seems like it is. Still waters run deep.
Because I am autistic, I experience joy in excess. The tiniest little thing can make me gasp, jump, clap, dance or laugh hysterically. I’ll never be a person who gets dragged down in the depths of life. There is always something of extreme beauty there, to lift me up. Even though I’ve been through so much (if you read more of my blog posts, you’ll find that trigger warnings are common), my indomitable spirit won’t back down. I have taught myself to find beauty in every situation. While I don’t sugar coat things, I will always be there to put things into perspective for my Son, and help him to grasp the ephemeral qualities of our brief time here. The cycle of life never stops it’s journey, and as such, we should roll along with it, living each day to it’s fullest.
But the most important thing that being autistic has lent to our lives, is that there is diversity in everything. And that being different is good. For most of my life I was undiagnosed, and always struggling. I’ve seen and felt my share of “isms”, and as an autistic person, I’m tired of living in a world of “isms”- whether then be ableism, sexism, racism or any “ism”! This is one of the reasons why neurodiversity is so important to me, and why on a daily basis I strive to teach the basic tenets of diversity to my Son. Whether we are learning a lesson in school, or in life, there is so much room for interpretation. As a deeply sensitive Autistic Mother, I feel that I have been gifted with this unusual neurology. I find strength in myself daily, drawn from within places in my mind that I didn’t even know existed. If there’s one thing I can tell you about Autism, it is that the Autistic mind is intricate and full of possibility. Our human vision is very limited to certain visible light wavelengths. We now understand that there is a world full of information and knowledge that is revealed to us when we view our world through invisible light wavelengths: infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma… Take that metaphor and apply it to the Autistic mind. There is so much there that cannot be seen through traditional means. Extend the range of your understanding, and you’ll come to understand just how endless and amazing the Autistic mind is.
I would never give up being Autistic, even if someone promised me a cure tomorrow. Being Autistic makes my life challenging, but more amazing than I ever thought it could be. I share this life with my Son, and I am so proud of him. He is perfect. He is wonderful. And he is everything I could have ever hoped for in a child. Our journey together has only begun. The possibilities are endless