Q: As a mother of a child with autism, I am often given eye rolls or useless parenting advice from others when she is acting up in public. What is some encouragement advice for others to be kind to the parents of special needs children and their parents?
A: Maybe it is the month of April and the heightened awareness to special needs and particularly Autism, or the plethora of school shows and activities, but there so many different dynamics that bring the topic of Special Needs to an intense level at this time of year. Please always start with the thought that parents are usually doing their best, and they are typically seeing the same signs you are seeing. Secondly, if you are a parent struggling with facing the tough questions and answers that can follow, take a deep breath and jump in full force. This is the month to ask questons, go to your doctor, call the Regional Center, enlist the experts around you, go to the developmental assessment days at Pretend City, and most importantly, be able to listen to the answers and make an action plan. You are the conductor of the symphony that is your chlld’s life.
Often when we worry about our own brood, we quickly find missteps in other homes. Briefly we think how great it is that “well we aren’t that bad.” Possibly the parents are struggling, searching and begging to find reasons that everything is going to be OK in their home. This is their journey, let them take it. Try to be kind. If you think a family is in denial about something with their child, you can softly address the concerns in a safe way. These are tough conversations. If you are a family on this journey, ask for space and kindness while you navigate these new waters.
The other assumption to never make is the thought that the parents don’t see what is “obvious.” Let’s not forget the parents are with the child 24/7. If the child or teen is out of control around you, chances are they are not “hiding” this behavior when you aren’t around. Parents are wise. Parental instincts are real. Denial only lasts so long. Parents are also great at searching out services, getting interventions, taking their child to every single therapy imaginable – without putting it all on a billboard on the 405. They may be doing everything imaginable and just can’t face the tough conversation, or say out loud what you are seeing. That does not mean they are not addressing every concern.
Be kind. Don’t make it your mission to be the one person to “show” them what is going on in their house. We live in a very fortunate area with many resources available. Trust that parents everywhere are doing their best and might need a little more time before they are ready to openly talk. Not everyone’s child will be the prom queen, the quarterback or go to an Ivy League school. However, everyone will find their way and the beauty of this awareness season is to celebrate everyone and give love and kindness. Every child contributes and every child matters.
Dr. Selena is a Developmental Psychologist having earned her Master’s and PhD at the University of Maryland and completing her clinical work at John’s Hopkins. She has worked in the field for 20 years and continues to consult with schools and families across all areas of development.