It’s April Again – Let’s Help Each Other
It may be easy to forget amid all the pandemic upheaval and changes to our daily lives, but it is, in fact, April again. That month when we get bombarded with “light it up blue”, puzzle pieces, “autism awareness”, and autism warrior parents.
This year, it promises to be even worse, with some of those warrior parents loudly complaining about how hard it is to be at home caring for their autistic children 24/7 and what a strain it is on them and the rest of their NT families.
And right now, I can’t even be mad at them for that.
Look, I’m not a fan of any parent who uses their child’s condition as the basis for their own identity or posts videos of their children in meltdowns or the like. Your child’s struggles are not for you to garner sympathy with. But it can’t be denied that parenting an autistic child comes with struggles of its own. And most parents of autistic kids are just trying to do the best they can for their families while maintaining their own sanity.
I know how hard it is for me – an autistic adult nearing 40, who ostensibly has learned some coping skills and strategies and hopefully has some ability for self-regulation – when my routines get up-ended or too many big changes get thrown at me too quickly. Just read last week’s post if you want proof of that.
It’s hundreds of times worse for autistic children, who haven’t yet learned those coping strategies and how to regulate those big feelings that maybe they can’t even name yet. On top of that, they know that their parents and other adults are on edge, high strung, and upset, but they may not understand why. They may be afraid that they’ve done something wrong. It’s really no surprise that autistic kids are regressing, losing skills, acting out, and having more frequent meltdowns. It’s a perfectly normal reaction to stress in a child’s life.
But it is hard on parents.
For all my adult autistic readers: we were all autistic children once, whether anyone knew it at the time or not. And, as adults, we can look back and see where our parents had times when they didn’t know what to do with us or for us, or how to help us. Autistic children today have it a little bit easier because they tend to be diagnosed earlier and there are more professionals available who do know how to help (and ABA is rapidly losing favor).
However, if parents are relying on those professionals and don’t feel capable of helping their autistic kids on their own, they probably feel very lost and afraid right now.
We, as autistic adults, have a great opportunity to help them.
Any other April, I’d be adding my voice to #RedInstead, #BoycottAutismSpeaks, #LightItUpGold, etc. And those ideas and movements are still important! (Don’t worry, I will never support Autism $peaks.) But this year, I think we can do better for the next generation of autistic children with #AskingAutistics, #AutisticAdult, and #ActuallyAutistic.
Here’s my challenge for you:
If you’re a parent of an autistic child and you’re unsure of how to help them deal with all this upheaval, try asking an actual autistic adult – or several, we can be found in groups all over social media – and listen to what they have to say. Our answers might not be the same ones you would get from a professional, but they come from our lived experience and what we wish someone would have known when we were kids. Look for those hashtags above or use #AskingAutistics to let us know you want our opinions. Drop your questions in the comments here and I’ll try to answer them or point you to better resources.
If you’re an autistic adult, my challenge is two-fold. First, let’s try not to bash autism parents. Lots of them are really great people who want to do what’s best for their kids and even most of the autism warrior parents love their children. (I’m having faith in humanity here, don’t burst my bubble!) Second, if you are approached by the parent of an autistic child asking questions like I’ve outlined above, BE NICE and answer them as best you can. Tell them what you wanted your parents to know when you were little, or how you used your behavior to communicate things you couldn’t say when you were younger. Tell them what you’ve found that helps you cope as an adult, or explain why you reacted in certain ways when you were a kid. Even if you’re not asked, maybe post something about how this quarantine situation would have affected you as a child and what would have helped or what you’re doing to cope now. Someone needs to hear that.
In short, let’s help each other.
Every April, we argue over awareness vs. acceptance vs. empowerment, we talk about why awareness isn’t enough, and we raise hell to make a difference for ourselves and the next generation of autistic people. This year, we have a unique opportunity to make an immediate difference and to improve the lives of autistic kids. So let’s be open, let’s talk to each other, and let’s help parents do the best they can for their kids. When they find that we can help, they’ll be even more likely to listen to us about everything else. At the same time, we’ll be showing them the best of autistic compassion and empathy.
This may turn out to be a very unpopular opinion, especially in April, and if so, I get it. But half the point of this blog has always been to give insights to adults raising autistic children so those kids can have an easier time growing up than I did. It’s so important to me that I’m in tears writing this. I don’t have a lot that I can contribute during this stressful time, but hopefully I can help in my small way and inspire others to do the same.
If you have any tips for managing stress and keeping autistic children calm and happy, please leave them below. My comments are open here on the blog, on Instagram, and on Facebook, where you can also message me. I’ll field any questions I can to help my neurodiverse sisters and brothers.