Most Mums know their children better than anyone else. (I apologise for this generalisation—I am fully aware this is not the case in every situation, but I’m a Mum so am writing from the Mum’s perspective.)
We interpret the cries of our babies; we know when they’re hungry, tired, grumpy, happy; we know what they want; we understand toddler babble-speak.
For many Mums, this need to decode everything ends to a certain extent when their child becomes more articulate and verbal (at least until the teenage years, when it’s a whole new ballgame).
However, for me as a Mum with a 12-year old high-functioning, verbal, articulate child who also happens to have Asperger’s, it is yet to end. I’m still wading through a daily sea of interpretation, misinterpretation, guessing, second-guessing and problem-solving.
If a job required expert skills in ‘code decryption’, I reckon I’d be a shoe-in candidate.
While Geordie is very articulate in other ways, he often struggles to identify and find words for how he is feeling; or, he knows how he is feeling but can not work out why. This is common in Autism/Asperger’s, but not necessarily definitive, and can be the cause of what many people see as ‘anti-social behaviour’ or meltdowns.
Sometimes, working out the cause of Geordie’s anxiety or distress is simple; it may only take a couple of minutes. At other times, it may take half an hour, or longer — sometimes several days and very, very occasionally I am unable to work it out and we just have to move on.
The process involves a lot of questioning, a lot of guessing, a lot of elimination technique and an ability to decode expressions and read ‘between the lines’ of Geordie’s responses.
No matter how long it takes, or what the outcome is, you can be sure of one thing —
I know my child!
So, when I have other parents, family members, teachers, school psychologists or medical professionals telling me that what I am seeing and hearing and knowing must be in my imagination or the result of helicopter parenting it really makes me cranky. (**understatement)
I have weathered this storm of disbelief for nearly nine years now. On and off.
It all began when I asked Geordie’s paediatrician for a referral to Therapy ACT to get him assessed for Asperger’s/Autism.
He didn’t think it was necessary. I did.
If my natural personality weren’t that of a pig-headed, stubborn mule — I would not have taken it further, and we would not have a diagnosis! Our life today would be VERY DIFFERENT.
Since that first run-in, I have dealt with another paediatrician who thought Geordie’s refusal to eat and subsequent weight loss was because I didn’t understand nutrition, so she tried to send me to a dietician to learn how to feed my son. (She met the pig-headed stubborn mule.)
I have come across strangers in the street who’ve suggested I learn how to discipline my child. (They met the ranting tyrant.)
I’ve also known of several teachers (some of them Geordie’s, but not all) who’ve refused to acknowledge the need for ‘downtime’ among other things — I don’t have space here to list them all. (When they were Geordie’s teachers, they met the ‘parent from hell’ eventually.)
On the flip side, I should acknowledge that I have come across equal numbers of people, if not more, who are supportive, wonderful, understanding, flexible …
Over the years, my openness about Geordie’s diagnosis and its associated behaviours has increased — in parallel with my lack of tolerance for the non-believers.
Top of my list of people I’m gunning for at the moment is those who listen with false sympathy to a mother’s description of her child’s behaviour. They nod when the mother wonders if the behaviour might be a sign or symptom of Autism/Asperger’s — and then they blow it by turning around and saying something like:
Oh, I’m sure he’s just being a boy.
It’s just a phase — he’ll grow out of it.
Don’t you think you’re just being overprotective?
Really? My child does that too — everyone does.
Or my current personal favourite for its insinuation that it is the mother’s parenting skills that are at fault:
I don’t think it’s Autism — I think it’s behavioural.
I have heard each and every one of these ‘opinions’ multiple times — both directed at me personally, and at other parents.
They achieve nothing positive.
All comments like these ones achieve are to make the recipient (usually the mother) feel like she’s not doing a good enough job, or that she has failed her child.
The other thing they do, I’ve decided just recently, is paint the deliverer of the comment as someone who does not respect the opinions and observations and knowledge of others. In other words — a total tool who is not worth listening to.
A mother knows her child.
We need to respect this knowledge.
We need to acknowledge it — not belittle it.
To all mothers out there who are, or have been, struggling with the negative perceptions of other people:
Do not listen to them!
Listen to yourself! Believe in yourself!
Do what you know is right for your child — even if you have to fight, even if you shun people along the way, even if it becomes difficult.
Your child is more important than anyone else!
It will hurt. It will be stressful. IT WILL BE WORTH IT!