Being an Autistic parent is hard.
Life for any parent is already EXHAUSTING. Add in navigating all the demands of parenting with being Autistic, and… it’s not easy.
First, there is the sensory nightmare of how incredibly loud these small, unpredictable people can be. In the early years, I sometimes wondered at how little thought I gave to the realities of parenting when making the decision to live in sensory chaos for the next 18-ish years.
But we do what we need to do. We brought these little people into the world, so we manage.
Parenting is all about constant change, and many Autistic people in general aren’t all that great with change. A child’s abilities and capabilities are constantly in flux, sometimes from moment to moment, and that lack of consistency feels very uncertain and unstable. But parenting is a gradual letting go of the child, from the very moment a baby is born. You can’t parent a 14 year old the way that you parent a 2 year old.
Parents also have to be always interruptible, usually because unexpected things happen when you have kids, and we Autistic people are not exactly known to be fantastic at managing sudden, unexpected situations. It’s sometimes easier when the children are tiny babies because (despite their extreme neediness) they’re at least more portable and predictable than when they get to be, say, toddlers.
As a brand new parent at 22 years old, and an undiagnosed Autistic, I couldn’t really plan for anything. Everything felt unstable. The situation was brand new and none of my extensive research had prepared me for the realities of packing up a small child and their things in order to leave the house and have everything we needed while out and about.
It was very isolating and lonely, not being able to plan to go anywhere or do anything.
Eventually I had to learn how to plan for every potentially possible situation so that I wasn’t having meltdowns as my child ran full speed into the parking lot next to the playground (just one example of toddler mayhem).
Caring for a tiny human creature in addition to oneself can be a lovely experience as well, don’t get me wrong. I will always cherish the nights I fell asleep with my babies in the crook of my arm, waking only to latch them on and fall back asleep together.
It is fascinating and enthralling to see who my children are becoming as they grow into young adults!
Parenting can be hugely rewarding. ❤
A Difficult Journey Made Harder
Unfortunately, many of us also started our parenting years without even knowing we were Autistic ourselves. This lack of knowledge created all kinds of issues in my life.
Mainstream parenting advice and expectations didn’t work for me at all, but I had no idea at the time why, which was frustrating (to say the least). So I focused on finding workable alternatives. Looking back, I believe it was mostly sensory issues that led me to my unconventional parenting practices. For example: I couldn’t handle babies crying so nursing on demand and bed-sharing worked wonderfully to accommodate my needs.
I have been very privileged in being able to find and implement my own parenting accommodations even before I knew I was Autistic. I’m white so our society allows me to make unconventional parenting choices fairly freely. I have a supportive spouse who was able to work several jobs so that I could stay home and focus on caring for our children instead of having to work outside the home. While we lived in poverty for most of my adult life, I had the time and knowledge to make that situation easier for all of us.
Many Autistic parents have to work full-time outside the home while also raising their children without much support at all. Many Autistic parents are members of visibly marginalized groups who have to deal with added stigma, judgment, and even danger as they try to raise their children in supportive and accommodating ways.
Breaking the Cycle
It can be so easy, especially when overwhelmed, to punish our children for the same things we were punished for ourselves as children. These punished behaviors were often things we couldn’t help doing or that we didn’t understand we shouldn’t do — these behaviors sometimes earned us cruel punishments and hurtful labels such as “difficult” and “willfully disobedient.”
Once we Autistic parents have a diagnosis (or at least an understanding that we’re Autistic) and have integrated our Autistic identity into our lives and our parenting styles, we can actually start deconstructing the harmful parenting practices done to us, which can help us parent more productively with our own Autistic children.
Autistic parenting is often a very lonely endeavor because it can be heartbreakingly difficult for us to find community with non-autistic parents of Autistic children.
As a former Autistic child, I frequently see Autistic children’s perspectives in a way that many non-autistic parents aren’t ready to hear because they’re struggling also and there’s a disconnect on both sides (see a short video or a written description explaining Damian Milton’s “Double Empathy Problem”).
Many Autistic parents stop attending “support” groups we’ve found to be unsupportive and sometimes, while alone, we wonder things like:
“How disabled am I allowed to be, really?
“If someone found out about my biggest parenting struggles, would they provide the sort of help that preserves my autonomy and supports me in parenting my children?”
“Or would that someone call authorities who might potentially take my children away?”
People can be distressingly unpredictable, which feels unsafe… unstable.
Thus we often struggle in silence — alone and isolated. We and our children against the world!
But sometimes we do find each other 🙂
I know and have met so many Autistic parents (mainly mothers and non-binary folx) and I’ve seen so much thoughtfulness and care for our children.
Parenting is a relationship. It’s also the most full-time job in the world.
And somehow we’re doing it!
Well done to all of us! For managing however we need to. For doing the best we can (which IS enough!). For getting this far!
Parenting is the most amazing, incredible, horrifying, challenging, rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’m still here doing it, which is kind of remarkable.
I’m glad you’re here too!
My name is Aria Sky, I’m agender and prefer to have no pronouns, but variations of she/they/ze are all acceptable.
I’m an Autistic parent of three Autistic children and one non-autistic child. My youngest is 8 years old and my oldest is 16. I grew up with other Autistic family members and I’ve informally helped brainstorm collaborative parenting and life solutions with a wide variety of neurodivergent families for well over a decade. My friend/then-boss suggested that I look into the possibility of being Autistic in January 2012 and I was formally diagnosed in mid-2016 at age 33.
My website is mamautistic.site which has links to my Twitter and Facebook profiles.