Adults with autism can make excellent parents or guardians. While a person with moderate orsevere autismProbably many people have the skills to raise a childhigh functioning autismthey are ready, willing, and able to meet the challenges of raising children.
Many aspects of parenting and guardianship can be more difficult for people with autism. However, the opposite is also true; There are a few ways that parenting can be easier when you have autism (especially if the children you care for are on the spectrum, too).
This article begins by explaining what high-functioning autism is and explains common misconceptions about the autism spectrum. It then examines the experiences of two parents with autism, detailing not only the challenges they face, but also the parenting skills their autism has given them.
What is high functioning autism?
In 1994, a new form of autism called Asperger Syndrome was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It reached out to people who had never been considered autistic before and changed the way people thought about autism.
People with this high-functioning form of autism were known to be intelligent, capable, and often successful. While they may have struggled with sensory issues and social communication, many managed to mask, overcome, or avoid these challenges.
Because Asperger syndrome was only classified in 1994, many people who grew up with the disorder were not diagnosed with autism until later in life, when they had children of their own.
In 2013, the fifth edition of the DSM (referred to as DSM-5) removed Asperger syndrome as a diagnosis. Today there isthree levels of autism spectrum disorder(ASD), where Level 1 includes Asperger syndrome and Levels 2 and 3 define who would be considered "moderately" or "severely" autistic.
Facts About Autistic Parents
There are manyMisconceptions about autismlead others to make false assumptions about the ability of people with autism to raise children. Here are a few:
- "People with autism do not feel normal emotions."Although people with autism may have slightly different reactions to situations or experiences than their neurotypical peers, they do experience joy, anger, curiosity, frustration, joy, love, andall other emotions.
- “People with autismcan't sympathize with others."In some cases, it can be difficult for a person with autism to “put themselves” in someone else's shoes. But that goes for everyone. While people with autism may not have somatic empathy (a physical response to what another person is experiencing), they often do have affective empathy (the ability to understand and respond appropriately to what another person is experiencing).
- "People with autism can't do that.communicate well."People with high-functioning autism use spoken language just as well as their neurotypical peers. However, they may have difficulties with social communication. As such, they may have to work harder to understand body language or more subtle forms of communication such as non-verbal cues.
Considerations for raising children with autism
Jessica Benz of Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Canada, is the mother of five children. She received her autism diagnosis as a result of finding answers to her children's challenges.
Here are her thoughts and tips on parenting as an adult on the autism spectrum:
What made you discover your own autism diagnosis? Do you recommend getting a diagnosis if you think it might be?
OwnThe diagnosis came as an adult.after two of my children were diagnosed and we began to discuss family history with one of the psychologists we work with. When I mentioned certain experiences as a child that matched what I saw in my own children, a light bulb went on.
From there, I searched for more tests and assessments just to better understand myself as a person and as a parent. I believe that more information is always better, especially about ourselves. If someone feels that autism may be part of the rug that shapes their own life, it is worth asking about it and requesting an evaluation.
Just as we check clothing labels for care instructions, the better we understand what constitutes our own life and ourselves, the better we can ensure that we are using the correct attitudes about self-care and interaction with others.
Did knowing that you are autistic influence your decision to have (more) children? And if so, how was the decision made?
Of course, knowing that I was autistic influenced my decisions, but when I was diagnosed we had three children. So we weren't afraid of having more children; it just meant that we had a really wonderful understanding of the children that we have.
Have a better understanding of how I felt at times; why I thought some things were much easier for other people than for me; and feeling like I'm not doing everything well enough has empowered me to make positive changes in my life to become a more engaged and conscientious parent.
I remember feeling guilty when my oldest son was little because he was desperately waiting for bedtime. I felt like it was the first time he could really breathe since he woke up in the morning.
It's not that I didn't like being a father. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and loved exploring the world with her. But the guilt I felt about looking forward to bedtime and a few hours without being "on" confused me.
Realizing through my own diagnosis that those two hours a day is necessary time for self-care has allowed me to become a parent without the burnout and exhaustion I felt before.
Plus, I realized other things I needed to feel like I could thrive as a parent. I have always been a pretty laid back person when it comes to routine, cleaning, planning and scheduling. This laid-back attitude to life caused me a lot of stress when I had to stick to a schedule or when unexpected demands arose.
As it turns out, parenthood is full of unexpected demands and schedules that aren't yours! I decided to experiment by applying the things I was doing to support my children in my own life, and to my surprise, things got easier.
UE she established a routine for running the house, a routine for getting through the day. I make sure to write a daily schedule each day (also with visual components for younger children) so we can all see what's happening each day and know how to plan ahead.
Just acknowledging that I deserved to give myself the same support that I give my children made me feel like I was meeting my own needs and showing my children that they are capable of doing what adults do and living their own lives. Many people hear the word autism and imagine that someone needs other people to generate that support.
It is important to me that my children see that they can take control of their own lives and advocate for their own needs. Modeling myself is a way to normalize what I often hear as "special needs."
We all have specific needs, including the people who have them.neurotípico🇧🇷 We have a duty to empower our children to recognize and support their own needs.
Why do we now have five children? I mean they are loud; they are messy; They fight; they intertwine with each other; and someone is always bothering someone else.
But they also deeply understand and fully support each other. In a world where friendships and social interactions are difficult, these children grow up learning to engage and work together so much that they are well equipped to interact with other children.
They will always have a family support network in their lives that they fully understand, even if they don't always agree. This is important to us.
Has knowing you're autistic changed the way you parent? For example, have you decided to ask for more help or have you changed your response to "bad" behavior?
It made me more intentional and aware. It also gave me space to accept that I also have an obligation to meet my own needs. so I can take better care of my children. I have learned to recognize when I am overwhelmed before reaching the burnout stage and I have learned to take time to recharge.
I also think back to my own childhood and how horrible it would feel when I couldn't stop crying over something that should have been a minor issue or when I'd just come home from school feeling pathetically angry for no reason.
I remember the shame I felt about these things as a child, and I want to make sure my children never feel that way. I was lucky and got the right parenting education and the answer to these things because the parents understood me deeply.
I was never punished and was always loved unconditionally during these meltdowns, even though I didn't know what a meltdown was. But I do remember feeling ashamed that I couldn't control my feelings and emotions the way everyone else seemed to be able to.
I was a model student, always at the top of my class. And I lived in fear that someone would find out that I was crying because I had to say hello to a friend at a grocery store.
I try to help my children understand each other. I want you to know that I understand why something unexpected can disrupt your entire day. And that I don't blame them or feel like they should be able to handle it better.
If I had known that my brain doesn't process things like other people, I think I could have been kinder to myself. As a parent, I want to teach my children to be kind to themselves.
What kinds of challenges do you face as a parent because you are autistic?
Let's start with the jokes. These encounters are a special suffering for me. First, I have a lot of people coming to my area or I need to bring my children into someone else's environment. In general, other people may be safe for children, but no one is REALLY safe for children except other parents raising children with autism.
So I'm stuck being hyper vigilant to make sure nothing breaks as I try to start small talk and never know when to stop talking. All the pranks require a full afternoon of downtime for all of us and probably a frozen pizza in the evening to recover.
Let's gosensory challenges🇧🇷 I am someone whose self-declared dream job was taking care of a fire tower. No people, no noise, no intrusions, just silence and space. "Wouldn't you get bored?" people asked. I did not understand the question.
Obviously, life in a household with five children looks a little different. Headphones are ubiquitous in our home. A few years ago he was tired of yelling at everyone to "turn that off!" I gave up and put on all my own headphones so I could turn the house volume down to a muffled hum.
Quiet moments are non-negotiable. Most kids have stopped sleeping, but are still required to spend time in their room every day, read in peace, play on a tablet, and just exist without bouncing off sofas and walls.
At school this only applies to younger children, on weekends and in the summer it applies to everyone. Of course, I tell them that it is important to learn to relax and recharge.
But really, this is how I get from one end of the day to the other without turning into a very grumpy mom. Those 45 minutes give me time to grab a hot cup of coffee, remember to breathe, and return to an afternoon of chaos and fun.
Does autism help you do a better job as a parent of children with autism? If so, how?
Absolutely. I think the hardest part of raising children with autism is not understanding.
It's easy to say the right things; It's easy to say we know they can't control youto collapse🇧🇷 But really understanding those feelings, having experienced them, knowing what it's like when the mind runs away and takes your emotions and your body with it, that's impossible to explain to people who haven't experienced it.
However, having experienced it gives me an idea of the moment they are living. This allows me to meet them where they are instead of asking them to meet me halfway. This allows me to be a strong advocate for them. Let me tell you that "even mom feels that way sometimes."
What coping techniques and strategies would you like to share?
Accept your comfort zone. It's there because it works. If you manage to be loved and respected from one end of the day to the other, meet the needs of the day, and keep everyone safe, you've done enough for the day.
Being a parent is not a competition, you don't win an award for being a Pinterest mom. When your son came to school with his shirt backwards because the right path was going to be a struggle, listening to your son was the best option.
Yes, even if it was the day of the photo and you arrived in your pajamas when the doorbell rang. You may want to wear real pants to IEP meetings; seems to set the right tone.
Have you shared your autism diagnosis with your children? If so, how did you do it?
Yeah, because it's been an ongoing discussion in our house, it's not a big reveal.neurodiversityas an important part of the world and about all the people in the world whose brains work differently.
I model according to my own needs and encourage children to do the same. When they see me say, "Stop, I'll take a half hour shower," it's much easier for them to tell me when they need a break because that's normal and acceptable in our family.
Does your autism make it difficult for you to deal with the neurotypical expectations of other children by parents or guardians, therapists, teachers, and others?
It could be, especially when I'm divulging my own diagnosis. Recently someone who worked with my five year old son engaged in some cruel and abusive practices. When I expressed my concerns and revealed my own diagnosis to him, he visibly changed. Then all other sentences ended with "Do you understand?" as if I were not capable and competent.
Sometimes I am a particularly open voice. The vast majority of people I work with are willing to listen and are friendly and respectful.
However, I have the education and experience that many other people do not have. And sometimes I wonder if my strong opinions and fierce defenses will be seen as difficult parents without supporting my statements.
I tend not to process well when it's time to stop talking, stop teaching, stop explaining, and I'll keep going until the discussion is my way. Sometimes I think it doesn't end well.
Little did I know that I would be such an outspoken advocate without my own experience. I would like to think that he would continue to be the voice that my children deserve. But I guess he wouldn't have had so many contentious encounters along the way if he hadn't personally experienced those moments and experiences.
Are there autism-related therapies that will help you be better with children?
I have never found a therapy unit that works for each of us. Just as no two people with autism have the same needs, no single therapy will have the same effect on everyone.
We use many techniquesoccupational therapyto make our family more peaceful. We use visual schedules, routines, and lots of practice in basic life skills.Speech therapyand even PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) if needed to facilitate communication.
We do yoga postures to help work the mind and body and the best thing I have personally found is working with a therapist.Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)learning to let go of my own expectation of a "normal" that doesn't exist for anyone, anywhere.
As a parent, it's all about being a tour guide; Sometimes you have to change the trip to meet everyone's needs. You just have to figure out how to do it in a way that no one feels like they're missing something.
Parental Reflections of a Father with a Lifelong Autism Diagnosis
Christopher Scott Wyatt, Ph.D. he is an adult with autism who blogs about his experiences. He and his wife are foster parents (and possibly foster parents) of children with disabilities.
What made you discover your own autism diagnosis?
Asthe labels kept changingI'm not sure if they were helpful; At least they limited the possibilities at the beginning of my training. Today we are ambivalent about our children's diagnoses. It can help and it can hurt.
Did knowing that you are autistic influence your decision to have children? And if so, how was the decision made?
Not really. We waited until we had a home and were reasonably safe, which probably has more to do with our overall personalities. My wife and I wanted to provide a good, stable home for all children, whether they were biological or adopted.
Has knowing you're autistic changed the way you parent?
Possibly my autism makes me more patient, especially since we know how I have experienced education and support. I am patient with children's needs for calm, order and sense of control. I understand that I want things to be orderly and predictable. They need it as foster children and they will need it if we can adopt them.
What kind of parenting problems are you facing?
We don't have a support network, at least not personally on site. We provide ourselves and the children with support in schools. So in that sense, we're different from other parents because we don't have the social interactions that a lot of parents do. Games don't take place because the other kids around are older than us.
What coping techniques and strategies would you like to convey?
Quiet hours and quiet rooms for us and the kids. Ottomans with books help them a lot. We also have sensory items: stress balls, thinking playdough, spiked balls, and other things they can play with when they're stressed.
Do you feel that your autism makes it difficult for you to deal with the neurotypical expectations of other children by parents or guardians, therapists, teachers, and others?
I quickly become frustrated with schools, social workers, and the courts. I don't understand why the needs of the children are not a higher priority. My wife reminds me to go for a walk or somewhere quiet after dealing with the system, which doesn't work with the kids.
Are there autism-related therapies that can help you cope better with parenthood?
I'm not a fan of mostbehavioral therapies, based on negative experiences. My coping mechanisms are art: music, drawing, painting, writing, and photography. We discovered that painting and drawing also help girls. When the girls slow down and need to refocus, the music (oddly Elvis - "Love Me Tender") works.
Our goal is to remind girls that labels don't define them for us and shouldn't define them for themselves.
People often wonder if people with autism can thrive as parents or guardians given potential limitations in communication and social skills. The truth is that people with moderate to severe autism probably do not have the skills necessary to raise a child, while people with high-functioning autism can be extremely capable parents or guardians.
While some aspects of parenting can be challenging (how tosensory overloadof stubborn children), other aspects may be appropriate for people with autism.
Because people with autism understand the nature of emotional breakdowns, they may be more empathetic and less reactive when a child has one. They may also be better equipped to bring order and structure to a child's life because of the skills they have learned through occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other forms of therapy.
One of the biggest challenges facing parents with autism is the potential lack of social interactions, which parents and guardians often rely on for support. Talking openly about autism, not only with teachers and other caregivers, but also with the children themselves, can help overcome this.
If I have autism, will my child have it?
If you have autism, or if someone in your family has autism, you are more likely to have a child with autism.However, there is no guarantee that a child born to parents with ASD will inherit the disorder.
What gene causes autism?
Several gene changes have been linked to autism, but it's unclear how many of them actually lead to the condition. Many increase the risk of developing autism but do not necessarily cause autism.
What does it mean to be neurotypical?
A neurotypical person is someone who has not been diagnosed with autism or who has intellectual or developmental differences. However, the term has different interpretations and is often used to describe a person who thinks and behaves in a way that is considered "normal" by society.
Learn more:neurotypical features(Video) Tips for New Autism Parents | Autism Tips