I wrote this reflection after thinking about how Autistic parenting may look different to the outside world than a typical parent-child interaction. I wondered about the many missed opportunities to identify secure and consistent parenting when the onus is on eye contact or the spoken word. I thought about my relationship with my youngest child who is multiply neurodivergent (including Autistic) and how we connect, our shared language and what a safe harbour looks like for him.
Why is this important?
Because many Autistic or neurodivergent parents are incorrectly observed and assessed by neuronormative people including family, friends and professionals. It's also important because often Autistic people have grown up feeling and thinking they are not good enough (whatever 'good' is). Often in social work, we talk about "good enough" parenting and we stress that perfect parenting doesn't exist. Yet we seem to not understand the many presentations of good, effective, responsive, and attentive parenting.
So, please, take this time to reflect. How do you seek to understand a child, a parent, or a parent-child relationship? Autistic parenting can and does enable attunement and attentiveness. It does offer security in attachments and a sense of safety for a child. We just do it differently.
A big thank you to Esther Whitney who created the wonderful artwork within this blog.
My son walks through the door with feet so heavy he can’t lift them. I sense a thick blanket of dense close-knitted emotion around him as he shuffles in my direction. His head is down, I can’t see his expression, but I can feel a looming dread. “Today has not gone well,” I think.
I wait for him to come closer. He stands beside me looking beyond my feet. I am holding my phone and to stim, I use it to scroll whilst holding my left hand out slightly towards my son, signalling I am available. I do not look at him.
My son silently leans towards me gradually letting his forehead touch my head. I feel the pressure and steady my feet so I can offer a slight and gentle pushback. We are connecting but with more than touch. I feel his synergy flow through to connect with mine. I am calm and offer containment in my steadiness and slow energy flow. I continue to scroll.
We hold this for some time until he utters a low growl, muffled but present. I push back a little firmer to indicate I have heard him. He is in distress, and I am here for him. I am anchoring his pain. At this moment I do not identify or understand his kind of pain, but I know it is there. I am tuned into his psychic dialogue. He is telling me that whatever those feelings he is holding are, are too much for him at this moment. My job is to let them come to me.
© Esther Whitney
My legs are starting to fatigue, and I push my feet into the floor, letting gravity hold me up. I know he isn’t looking at me however I try to stop the discomfort showing on my face. This time is not for me right now. My neck is straining with the weight on my son’s whole body beginning to mould into mine. My physical pain is merging with my son’s emotional maelstrom, and he starts to feel a little lighter. Another growl. A slightly softer tone. Only now do I stop my scrolling and start to stroke his hair. He pushes into me, briefly in response. Quietly I say, “let’s sit down”.
The rigidity morphs into a flop onto the sofa. I sit beside my son, continuing to stroke his hair. I feel his breathing start to settle and regulate. His body is less tense, he raises his hand and flicks my hand “meh”. I recognise playfulness and respond, “yeah meh”, His arm flails towards me, half-searching my face. He finds my nose and squeezes it. A good sign. “hello” I say.
Slowly, gradually my son sits up. He does a full body shake, a few random noises and another nose squeeze for me. He stands up, walks towards the kitchen, and as he passes through the door, says loudly “I’m hungry”.
And we are back.