You didn’t think you were the kind of person who cared what people thought about you.
And then your kid was diagnosed with autism.
You’re not ashamed of your child – you’re truly not – and yet, when you’re out in public and people stare or say ignorant, rude things, your cheeks flush and tears well up in your eyes.
Recently I read that fear of judgment is rooted in guilt and shame. That statement really hit home for me because over the past year, my sensitivity to people who judge Tosh and me in public has decreased significantly.
Reading that statement made me realize why. It happened right after I became aware of some traumas I had experienced that related to his autism.
Judging from the feedback I’ve received from this week’s IGTV episode on this subject, my experience is common among parents of autistic children. Maybe it will resonate with you and help you tune out others so you can better enjoy your public family time.
Trauma #1: I blamed myself for Tosh’s autism
The more I talk about this with other parents, the more I realize we all do this. You know what I’m talking about, that ONE AWFUL THING you did that caused your child’s autism. No matter how many times doctors, friends and family or even research tells you that you’re not to blame, you just can’t shake the feeling it’s your fault. You made a stupid, horrific mistake that harmed the person you love most in the world. It’s no wonder I felt shame whenever someone noticed Tosh’s autism. I believed it was my fault.
Trauma #2: I was ashamed of my spectrum behaviors
I say this all the time – autism is genetic, and chances are pretty good that at least one parent has some sensory issues, social impairments, repetitive or restrictive behaviors and/or challenges with executive functioning.
And chances are pretty good that back when you were a kid, nobody knew anything about ASD or the fact that these symptoms were physical, and not the result of bad behavior.
I remember being scolded for what I now know are spectrum behaviors. I was overly sensitive, immature, forgetful and had sensitivities to texture, smell and sound. But it was the 70s and 80s, and my parents had no idea about autism. It’s not like they could read blogs on the topic or order books off Amazon. My mom worked as an aide in special education, and I don’t remember her ever saying one word about autism. Heck, hyperactivity was a brand new concept back then.
But even though it’s not my parents’ fault, it was still traumatic. I was shamed for behaviors I couldn’t control.
Everyone experiences childhood trauma. Because mine was rooted in feeling ashamed of my spectrum behaviors, it triggered emotional reactions whenever anyone directed the same at Tosh.
Then there are the traumas everyone has: experiences that made you feel like you weren’t good enough. We carry those traumas everywhere we go and judge everything we do through them, including parenting. You know this one applies to you if you assume that your child’s behavior makes everyone around you think you’re a bad parent.
So what can you do about it? My favorite release method is to write down everything I’m feeling. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or even if it makes sense. Just get those feelings out of your body and onto paper.
When you’re done, take it outside and burn that muphuka.
Take a deep breath as you watch your pain turn into smoke and float away. You’ll feel better right away, but you may not be completely healed. Releasing trauma is a process. Feel free to repeat this exercise as often as needed, or find your own way to acknowledge and release your buried feelings.
It also helps to remind yourself that not everyone who stares is judging you. All animals turn to look at anything that makes a loud, sudden noise. It’s a survival instinct. Other people might have an autistic family member and are scanning your child to see if you’re a member of their tribe. Once I released my shame and raised my head proudly when I took Tosh out, I realized a lot of people weren’t judging us. They were smiling!
As they should. After all, he is pretty damn cute. 😁
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!