Whenever I went out with my autistic son, I frequently felt like I wasn’t wanted and didn’t belong. This was particularly true of playgroups and playgrounds. Other adults and children would steer clear of us, despite my best efforts to make us appear welcoming and non-threatening. But that’s hard when your child hums and rocks and doesn’t play, act or talk like the other kids.
I did though feel welcome and understood, when I started being in situations with special needs children and their parents. Even when our children didn’t have the same condition and challenges, we had all been through similar trials. We’re all extra patient, we know we don’t have to constantly apologise and explain to each other our children’s unusual language and behaviours.
Now that my eldest is attending school, I spend more time alone with my youngest (who doesn’t have any special needs). Today I took him on two outings, to two local playgrounds. He did what normal children did, and so did all the other children at these playgrounds. I spoke to the other parents, and we talked about normal things, “what’s your daughter’s name, how old is she, oh she has lovely hair…”.
At first I felt like an imposter, pretending I wasn’t a mother of a special needs child. But gradually I slipped into the role and got the hang of it, and even started to quite enjoy it. I felt like shouting, “hey look at us, we’re normal!” No one was avoiding me or my son, if anything they were actively engaging with us, in a way I’d never really experienced with my eldest because his behaviour scares people off.
Whereas I once felt like I belonged nowhere, I now oddly feel like I belong everywhere. I am a mother of a special needs child. I am a mother of a child without special needs. I’ve had the usual concerns for a normally developing child, and the usual concerns for a seriously developmentally delayed child. I am usual!
I haven’t yet felt like these two mothering worlds are integrated; when I’m out with both children I have to of necessity, resort to a mother of a special needs child because the eldest requires so much extra attention and care to avoid outing-ending meltdowns. I suspect as my mothering life progresses, that I won’t notice the differences so much, but for now I am keenly aware of it and of how people treat me differently depending on which child is with me.