Mothering and Belonging

Children playground at the Trkalište.

Image via Wikipedia

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.

This entry was posted in Attitudes to Autism, Parenting an Autistic Child and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Mothering and Belonging

  1. sharon says:

    I completely understand this process. Except the other way around in that Harri was my 3rd, with the other two being NT (kinda). BTW, “usual” isnt’ all it’s cracked up to be.

  2. Jack (Wife of Jack) says:

    You and I are/were in the same position. Special needs child is also first child so doubly confused and without much idea of the right way to do anything. What is a normal developmental issue , what is the Autism? How do you even start to modify negative behaviour when you would be equally confused with a neuro typical child. I have gone from being a nervous, confused first time Mother to a nervous, confused and slightly more cranky Mother of a S.N. child who needs me to be to be in control and have the answers. I don’t have the answers and control is just a thin facade.

    I am fortunate that I can associate with a few parents who knew our son when he was just a big bouncing baby who fed well, slept through the night and never gave me much trouble. We are allowed to be confused Mums together as they certainly don’t have the magic wand to solve all their parenting problems either.

    Understanding well yes that you can only really get from another parent who has a child like yours. You need to surround yourself with both kinds of parents ideally.

    • Well said Wife-of-Jack, and I always find it reassuring to hear from other parents going through the same experiences and thoughts. Oh, and I’m definitely feeling the “cranky” lately – both boys are driving me nuts lately, just in different ways than each other. I think parenting is always hard, it’s just particularly hard when your first child is special needs and you’re trying to learn two major tasks at once: Parenting a child, and learning about how to deal with their special circumstances. Such as trying to figure out if your child is acting up because of something to do with their autism (so perhaps something they can’t control / is because of sensory issues / requires a unique approach) or whether it’s just typical child behaviour requiring “ordinary” discipline. It’s both mentally and physically exhausting.

  3. Parker isn’t my first child……he’s my last. It’s interesting to read from your perspective.

    We all have to find our own way sometimes……it’s a learning experience for sure.

    Tammy and Parker

  4. nostromo says:

    Fortunately when I’m at a playground with my son I really don’t care about his obvious differences, as I don’t feel people have an issue with him. He’s pretty passive though and while he is obviously Autistic, giggles like a maniac, flaps his arms and jumps up and down, and squeals loudly he doesn’t have meltdowns as such which is what I think other people are most bothered by/judgemental on. If he did that a lot or was inappropriately verbal (which since he can’t talk is a moot issue) it might be different.

    • That’s great to hear. The same sort of things that you’re describing – what I call my son’s “happy dance” – were the very things that brought him the negative attention unfortunately. People would stare at his loud constant humming while he rocked from side to side on his feet. I’ve had people ask me more than once if he was doing it because he was angry! So I can understand them avoiding him if that is the way it looks to other people. People wouldn’t avoid us because of my son’s meltdowns, because as soon as one of those start up I usually leave the situation asap, rather than wait around to see how other people react!

  5. SM69 says:

    Yes I have often said, the minute you tell others your child has autism, they become autistic towards our family. But it’s essentially because they are unsure of what to do, pity, feeling sorry, respond, not respond. In a way, nothing is likely to be right. I think in the end, it is our own attitude as parents that may make others accepting or not, our anxieties, our watchful eyes, or on the other hand, our confidence and enthusiasm. In any case, the only parameters we can influence are how we feel and who we chose to hang around with. But not mixing with other parents and children is not the solution for an ASD family. Openness is.

    A few years ago, I organized some community experience with other families of ASD children, sharing the same main principles and attitude towards the conditions. It was greater, because parents got to talk with other parents alike and the siblings had instant connections amongst themselves. With a little bit of support, it was easy to integrate the ASD children in a range of activities, related to the community or games. It was like a super large family or a like-minded community.

    • The community initiative sounds great, well done!

      As for your comment about things changing once you tell other people your child has autism or it just being an issue with the attitude of the parent of the autistic child, I cannot agree. My own experiences I was referring to, were predominantly the ones I had prior to receiving the diagnosis. Even after the diagnosis, I don’t go around telling everyone I meet that my son has autism. In fact, my experiences are quite the reverse of what you suggest – the times I have told people my son had autism, they more often than not, wanted to know more or showed a more understanding attitude. There are always those who react negatively, or continue to keep their child at a “safe distance”, but I wouldn’t say those were the majority I meet (thankfully).

  6. SM69 says:

    I did not mean to go around people telling your child is autistic, I meant choosing the environments in which your child is more likely to be accepted for who he is is. You must be aware there are places packed of red necks to put it bluntly and others which are a lot more open-minded to differences, right? I meant also, there is no point as a parent to feel bad about other ignorant attitude, best is to live fully the life we have been given exactly as it is. And best is to find ways to include our kids in an accepting community or group of people, the wider family.

    • I’m not aware of any “places packed of red necks”. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean? I was talking about playgrounds and playgroups in my post and in the comments, I must say that I’m not aware of running into any “red necks” at such places! I have run into people who do not understand and cannot recognise autism, but that is hardly the same as being a red neck. Also, I can’t take a poll before entering a playground to first make sure the people there hold “appropriate” beliefs.

      Quite frankly SM69, you are fast approaching troll status with your comments across my blog. If you’re not enjoying my blog (and from some of your angrier and less coherent comments, that does seem to be the case), might I humbly suggest that you just stop reading it?

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  8. tegansmommy says:

    And this is why I paid for a membership to start my own playgroup 🙂
    I do agree with some of the PP’s that it’s important to keep one foot in both worlds. The support I get from other SN parents is priceless – but I want our family to still be in the NT world as well. It benefits my son so much (HIE, CP) to be around typically-developing kids, so I guess it’s a matter of balance.
    Such a delicate line we walk…

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