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Challenge: Kids with Special Needs

Autism and Toxic Parenting

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I'm slightly afraid that I am going to be stoned to death for writing this, but it needs to be said. Let me begin by saying that I think we all have the tendency to be toxic in one way or another. By nature, human beings are selfish. We want what we want, when we want it. Most of us can control it, or tame it in one way or another. For some of us, it's something we have to fight daily. We must decide every single day to be selfless. For parents, in most cases, that comes naturally. When we are given these tiny humans to raise, we suddenly become selfless in many ways. Most of the time that selflessness comes naturally. We don't wake up every single morning and say, "ok, today I'm going to make myself parent these kids." "I'm going to make myself fix them breakfast, etc." When you have children your needs go on the back burner until their needs are met. It's natural for most people. Others suffer from mental health issues that prevent that natural change. Some had their own toxic parents that either made them better or bitter. There are so many circumstances that can make or break you as a parent, I understand all that.

What I don't understand is being toxic on purpose. You see, social media has created a whole new sub-group of selfish/toxic people. I'm not even sure these people are as toxic in real life as they come across on social media. Social media empowers people to do or say anything their heart desires. It is a juxtaposition of a blessing and a curse. I've seen it time and again. People I know personally who will jump on a thread and say all manner of things. When I read it, I feel like I don't even know who that person is. In most cases, it's highly unlikely that they would be bold enough to say those same things face-to-face. In fact, I have been guilty of this myself. Social media makes us bold. It's much easier to type words and hit that return key than to say something so brazen in person. What I think we easily forget is that your written words are forever. Any text message, email, inbox, social media thread, blog, or posting on FB has the potential to stay with you forever. Think about that for a moment. Screenshots are forever people. What you say and do on the internet has the potential to affect you or stay with you for the rest of your life. People have lost jobs over things they have said on social media. Do you know who else will be affected by your words? Your children. Your autistic children. Your developmentally delayed child. Your "hard" child. Your ADHD child. Your child who is non-verbal. Your deaf, blind, or any other impairment child. And yes, even your typical child.

Because I am so "aware" of autism, I see lots of toxic parenting going on in the autism community. These parents are not hard to spot. They are often self-centered, disrespectful of their children's privacy, emotionally reactive, manipulative, envious, critical, blaming, competitive, and draining. I didn't make this up. You can Google toxic parenting and get the same thing. Now, don't get me don't need to be the parent of an autistic child to be toxic. But, because I am in fact the parent of an autistic child, I am somewhat immersed in the sea of parents who have children with various needs. Some of these parents handle things better than I ever will, some have burdens to bear that I would never want, some have their own health issues that make things more difficult, and some need to seriously look in the mirror and realize how toxic their parenting really is.

I hate autism

This is so hard (said so often that is becomes a mantra).

I wish my child did this or that like Karen's kid.

People need to understand that our lives are horrible.

I feel like a prisoner.

I am so sad.

Now, I want you to think for just a moment on those words. What if your child read them? How would that make them feel? I'm not saying the feelings aren't valid, they absolutely are. I just don't understand why you would proclaim it so loudly for the world to see. What does it prove? Is it being helpful or harmful?

This is so hard. This is so hard. This is so hard. This is so hard. This is so hard.

I am so sick of seeing those words over and over and over! Yes, it can be hard. No, there is nothing wrong with saying it's a hard day. But seriously people, some folks spit out those words so often that I feel like I'm on Drake's iPad watching it on repeat. It's driving me nuts.

And who is it helping if you say it is hard? Let me guess, "people can relate." Hogwash. What about your kid? Do you look at them day after day and say those words? Do you? I hope when they look at you they see nothing but a parent who is trying everything they can to help. I hope they see more smiles than frowns. I hope they see HOPE.

Parenting a child is hard, and many times parenting a child with addional needs is much harder. I cannot deny that. There is nothing easy about watching your child struggle, in whatever way that may be. Some parents deal with intense meltdowns, aggression, self-injury, aggression towards siblings, children who have seizures, children who elope, children who are extremely defiant, and children who are never comfortable or at ease. All of these are harder than anything I have dealt with on my journey with Drake. I don't presume to know what that life is like, all I can do is learn about that side of autism through others...and I do. Some of my closest friends in this community deal with all of those things, and more. The kicker is, they deal with it all with grace. They don't disrespect their child by talking about private details on social media. They don't stand up at a loud speaker and proclaim how much they despise autism, even though I'm sure they do some days. Do you know why they don't do those things? Because they understand the importance of keeping their child's most desperate days private. I've said this before and I'll say it again. How would you feel if someone constantly described your bad days? Not only that, they did it for the world to see.

What is more important? Your popularity and how many people can say, "me too" or your child's dignity? There are ways of telling your story without making your kid look like a spectacle. Facebook isn't a circus show. I refuse to put my kid on display for the world to gawk at at say..."Oh, I'm so sorry, me too." It's wrong. It will always be wrong. What I will do is show you the confidence my kid has. I'll show you his expressive face. I'll tell you about milestones. I'll ask you to celebrate with me. I'll even tell you about some rough times, but only if I can do it and laugh. Why do I do this? Because I believe with ALL of my heart that one day he will read what I have written. He will not be ashamed of autism. He will not hang his head and wonder if he ruined my life. He will not read about me being sad, because I'm not. Not only him, I don't want any autistic person to read my words and feel like autism made our lives miserable. They get enough misery from society. Drake is my child. No, he isn't what I expected...but he is what I have and I can't imagine this world without him and his autism in it. Toxic parenting is a dangerous for anyone, but for autistic children the ramifications can be even more damaging. Our children deserve to be talked about respectfully, especially from their parents. I hope you will join me.


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