Your child may be different but they are not less.
“Different not less” is surely a slogan you’ve seen or heard before. It’s a concise and sometimes cutting reminder that your child may be different from their peers or from what you expected them to be but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of love and respect OR less capable of living a fulfilling life.
We can also twist the mantra a little bit and remind ourselves that even though our realities differ from our expectations (the truth is, few parents plan for an autistic child), we don’t love our kids any less. We can better support our children by reshaping our own expectations using a growing understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and our evolving perception of autism.
If you are a parent, chances are that you had plenty of time before your child was born and in the first couple years of their lives to build elaborate dreams and expectations for them. This is often the first source of a parent’s grief and worry once a child starts showing signs of autism or receives their official diagnosis. That “grief” typically comes from hardened expectations of what a child will be like and having to let go of those “hopes and dreams” that may have been brewing for years will undoubtedly evoke some type of sadness.
Grief, anger, and worry are valid emotions. You are allowed to feel those feelings. It’s about how you experience them and how you work through them that makes the real difference. You don’t want your child to feel like they are broken or unlovable, so try your best to have these types of conversations in a kid-free space. It’s hard to mask certain emotions but the last thing any parent wants is for their child to feel like a burden, so steer clear of venting or explaining what’s bothering you in the presence of your kids. The goal is to support our children in the best way possible and that’s tricky to do if we’re holding on to outdated or unfair expectations.
It may not be an easy feat to start releasing those expectations and it’s worth noting that you weren’t wrong for having ideas or opinions of what you wanted your child to be. Life is full of twists and turns and if you’re caught up on what your child might not be, you’ll miss all the amazing things they already are. You need to start forming new, healthier expectations that align with your child’s strengths and interests. If you’re reading this then you were actively looking for ways to support your child, you’re doing great!
- Talk to parents that have experience moving beyond their own expectations. There is a ravenous community of “autism parents” that are extremely eager to help parents of newly diagnosed kids get going in the right direction. Be sure you steer clear of groups that promote “cures” or “recovery” as they aren’t looking to support their children, they are looking to change them.
- Start creating new expectations as a way to push out the old ones. The easiest way to create an inspiring new set of expectations is to think of all the things that makes your child incredible and use those thoughts as inputs to build new hopes and dreams.
- Don’t be afraid to see a therapist or find a confidant that you can trust. There are plenty of reasons to see a therapist and wanting to work through your issues to be a more active and supportive parent is surely a good one. It also provides you a safe space to talk through some of the emotional complexities of the situation with no fear of your child over-hearing or reading about your worries.