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Weathering the Storm As an Autism Parent

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Some days, being the parent to a child with autism is like sitting in a car during a hailstorm. The hits are direct and steady, yet one by one, each pellet bounces off of the durable exterior. The storm is often over as swiftly as it began and within minutes, the sun is shining. If you’re lucky, there isn’t a trace of damage on the car’s exterior–no dings, dents or blemishes. As you continue about your day, passers-by would have no inkling of the tempestuous conditions from which you sought refuge earlier. The lack of physical damage doesn’t fool you into forgetting, though you wish it would. Bumps and bruises or not, you feel the residual sting at every point of contact, and collectively, the events of the experience weigh heavily upon your heart.

Some days, it is like waking up to several inches of freshly-fallen snow. As you peer out the window, the sparkling white landscape reawakens a child-like sense of adventure. Something about a snow day is revitalizing. It is almost as if its pristine beauty lures you outside with the promise of a new beginning. You can appreciate this to some degree, but you are an autism parent. You’ve become an expert at analyzing your surroundings. You know all too well that ice often comes along with all of that beautiful snow. Ice is slippery and represents loss of control. Ice is not your friend. Additionally, you know that snow is not a forgiving canvas–far less so than the exterior of a car. With every move you make across the snow, you leave a mark for all to see. Sometimes you leave joyful marks, like the tracks of a sled or a snowman. Other times, the impressions you leave behind are the result of a sensory meltdown. Two sets of footprints become one at the point where you have to pick up your very overwhelmed child and trudge home, just about collapsing beneath the weight of it all. Those types of experiences are more difficult to brush off because they leave you and your child exposed and vulnerable to the questioning eyes of others. (Yes, you do learn to brush off the looks of others with time, but you are still human. It still makes you sad that an experience that is so joyful to other children is downright painful to your own.)

Lastly, many days as a parent to a child with autism are regular days with sunshowers. Your chaotic little life has become your normal. Contrary to what many believe, you don’t calculate every single move and autism isn’t always on your mind. Avoiding your child’s triggers becomes second nature and their idiosyncrasies are only peculiar to others. You don’t spend all of your time in “battle mode.” Like every other parent to any other child, you just live. Messy moments, like sunshowers, sneak up out of nowhere, but they aren’t enormous obstacles. If you are able, you find cover to protect you from the rain. If not, you get a little wet but you don’t worry too much about it. There is no time to worry. Before you can even consider worrying, in moments like these, the rain has stopped. The sun is bright. You help your child search for the rainbow, but by now, you’ve learned that your child is the rainbow. They are the bright, beautiful slice of light that makes it all worth doing over every day, regardless of the weather.

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