As this post hits the presses, the holiday season is in full swing. At this time of year, a number of blogs feature articles on “how to survive the holidays” with a child on the autism spectrum. There is plenty of good advice out there on how to make holiday parties and events as low-stress and enjoyable as possible for your autistic child. So this post takes on a different, yet still “holiday-themed” topic: the gifts of parenting your autism spectrum child. As you prepare to celebrate the upcoming holidays, take a quiet moment to reflect on – and appreciate – the many gifts your child brings into your life.
The Gift of New Perspectives
For neurotypical parents, raising a child on the autism spectrum can feel like parenting someone from another planet. Autistic individuals identify with that feeling as well – some examples of this include the aptly named autism community Wrong Planet, and well-known autistic university professor and author Temple Grandin referring to herself as an “anthropologist on Mars” to describe how she feels around neurotypical people. Your child sees and experiences the world very differently from the way you do. This can be immensely frustrating at times (for both of you) – but if you are open to shifting your paradigms, you can reduce that frustration and likely develop a much deeper connection with your child. The next time your child does something in his own unique and status-quo-disrupting way, ask yourself whether it matters. Does he really need to conform? Or is his way just as valid once you shed your preconceived notions of what is “normal”? Every day, your child provides you with the gift of new perspectives.
The Gift of Self-Discovery
One of the most life-changing aspects of parenting a child on the spectrum is that it will bring both your strengths and weaknesses to the forefront. This is true for any parent – but because parenting a child on the autism spectrum can pose greater challenges, the degree to which you are immersed in this process of self-discovery is much greater. You may tap into perseverance you never knew you had. You may become fearless as you advocate for your child, even though you’ve always seen yourself as a rather timid person. On the flip side, you may come face to face with something in your personal make-up that you’ve never noticed before – because it took the intensity of your child to bring it out. Ultimately, the experience of raising your child doesn’t just result in your growth as a parent – it can make you a better person. Your child, just by being who he or she is, gives you the gift of self-discovery.
As you reflect on the gifts your child brings into your life, you may come up with several more – this is just a starting point. What one gift has had the greatest impact on you? Share it in the comments!