"Geez, lady, learn to control your kid!"
Oh, those rude, ignorant comments you always get from strangers whenever you take your autistic kiddo out in public. We've all been there.
Whether your tendency is to react with anger, embarrassment or tears, who wouldn't like to get to a place where those comments don't bother you one bit?
I've got a two-step process that can help you achieve that. It requires a healthy dose of empathy and the willingness to do a little deep diving into your soul, but the results are totally worth it.
1. Rude comments have absolutely nothing to do with you.
What comes out of peoples' mouths (yours included) is a reflection of how they feel about themselves on the inside. Judgmental people are telling the world they have a million faults. Intolerant people are telling the world how much they hate themselves. Sarcastic people or those who say something mean followed by, "just kidding," are telling the world they are passive aggressive and don't have the guts to say what they really think.
When someone says something mean about your kid or your parenting skills, what they're really doing is trying to convince themselves that they are a good parent. Chances are, that grumpy old man at the store who gave you a dirty look because your child let loose an autism shriek hasn't spoken to his kids in months. Maybe even years. It's Psychology 101 - we look for fault in others in an attempt to feel better about ourselves.
Look, everyone has experienced pain and trauma that has left lasting scars. Everyone is dealing with their own demons. The best response to people who are rude in public is to ignore them completely or give them a genuine smile, perhaps a quick apology like, "I'm sorry he startled you," and continue on your merry way.
Responding with anger, which most people tend to do (or want to do), will only make the rude person feel even worse about themselves, and they will in turn take that new pain out on someone else. You've only perpetuated a cycle of negativity in the world.
More importantly, your angry response will make you feel like shit because now you're in a bad mood. It will also affect your child, because kids with autism are little emotional sponges. If mom or dad is upset, they're upset. Then they'll act out because their upset, and you'll feel like a bad parent.
Remember, comments from complete strangers NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. This applies to friends and family members, too. It's all about them, a little peek into their injured souls. A little kindness, then a quick refocus on your family, is the way to go.
2. Find out why the opinions of others affect you emotionally
Before you can easily toss aside a stare or rude comment, you need to figure out why you even care what others think in the first place. I mean really, who gives a shit what a complete stranger thinks about you and your family? They don't know you. You'll never see them again. Why in the world would that even bother you?
The answer is because they are triggering a painful feeling you've been carrying around for most of your life. Maybe when you were a kid you got the message that nothing you do is ever good enough. Or perhaps your parents were very sensitive to what other people thought of their parenting skills and whenever you misbehaved in public, you were punished excessively.
Maybe you secretly think your child's autism is your fault and when people notice it, you feel ashamed. (I have a science-y cure for that, by the way)
Everybody has experienced trauma and been taught limiting beliefs about themselves. It's a part of being human. Like it or not, nearly all parents pass along the negative feelings they have about themselves and the fears they have about the world on to their children. It takes constant work to become aware of these things and break the cycle.
If you'd like some help diving into your triggers and figuring out what's holding you back, join my autism parent support group, The Cabana. We're finishing up an online course on silencing your negative thoughts, which are rooted in your subconscious, put there by parents, teachers and others who in many cases meant well, but screwed you up a little bit anyway.
Next month, we're going to learn how to not do the same to your kids.
And on Thursday in our exclusive Cabana Facebook group, we welcome a special guest: Family therapist and host of Autism Blueprint podcast Janeen Herskovitz. Janeen is also the mom of a severe, nonverbal young man so she's been there, too. She's going to talk about the emotional roadblocks that prevent autism parents from justifying time for their own self care. She'll also take questions from our audience!
Click on the LEARN MORE link below and join today so you can attend this life-changing event!
I'm a member of a special needs parenting group on Facebook, and last week another parent posted something that was so relatable.
She wrote that while she normally just scrolls past and ignores posts by parents of neurotypical kids, bragging about their achievements, there seem to be more of them lately. All the dance recitals, awards and other accomplishments and milestones made her want to scream for them to shut up already, and appreciate how lucky they are.
The response from the group was overwhelmingly supportive because we've all been there, right? Especially in the beginning. I remember back when Tosh was a toddler, and I'd see all the cute little Facebook videos of first words, the happy birthday song, preschool holiday programs and the comedy of three-year-olds playing soccer.
Tosh couldn't do any of that then, and still can't do most of it now.
Back it what I call my dark days, when he was about four years old, just one video of a toddler saying something cute was so painful, I would become crippled with depression for days.
I hadn't even gone public with his diagnosis. Only family and a few close friends knew.
Then I began noticing a friend's Facebook posts. Deborah, a friend from college, has three beautiful kids. Two are neurotypical and one, her middle son, has Down syndrome.
But here's the remarkable thing: if you knew nothing about neurotypical milestones or society's expectations for behavior, and just read her posts about her kids at face value, you'd never know that one has a disability.
There's equal bragging for all three kids. As it should be.
I remember one family vacation in which Deborah proudly posted that even though her son wore a pull-up for the plane ride, just in case, not only did he not need it, he even used the airplane bathroom! Airplane bathrooms are weird and intimidating for everyone (at least they are for me) and we've all had (or are still having) our potty training victories and defeats.
That post was so brave and so inspirational.
Deborah also posts about things that make her son unique that have nothing to do with Down syndrome. He loves rock music, just like his dad. He's also a fan of the movie Grease and loves to dress up as Danny Zuko and sing along to the soundtrack. And he's adorable as hell!
I don't think she realizes it, but Deborah became my special needs mom role model when I really needed one. Encouraged by her pride in her son, I revealed Tosh's diagnosis and began posting about his milestones, achievements and adorable, endearing moments. And I couldn't care less if they were age appropriate or not.
When I did that, something wonderful happened. I began getting comments on my posts and DMs from friends who also have special needs kids, but I had no idea because they didn't share that information on social media. But they began doing so because they drew strength and inspiration from me. Deborah lit a spark that has grown into a fire.
Not only that, but friends who don't have special needs kids have become our biggest supporters, loving and accepting Tosh just as he is and celebrating his milestones as enthusiastically as the gymnastics medals and honor rolls.
And really, isn't that what we all want? For our kids to be celebrated just like the others?
There's plenty of disability awareness out there, but so many posts are negative and focus on the struggles. They don't present the child as someone who can learn and grow, and be absolutely adorable doing it, just like other kids.
As a parent, you can do your part to take awareness one step further, and turn it into acceptance by bragging about your child's achievements regardless of their age or ability.
You'll also feel the joy of being a proud parent, which is your right.
I don’t know about your family, but this has been a tough year for us so far when it comes to health. Both Tosh and I rarely get sick, but so far this year we’ve had a hard time shaking a flu bug that gave us bad coughs plus some stomach cramps and vomiting. As they say, it’s going around.
We know a lot about the immune system when it comes to fighting colds and flu, but did you know scientists believe our brains have an immune defense system that fights our attempts to make positive changes in our lives?
About two and a half years ago, when I was in a pretty dark place, I got into a fight with the guy I was dating.
I was feeling down and defeated. Autism was kicking my ass. Being a single mom was kicking my ass. My job was kicking my ass. Life was kicking my ass.
So naturally, I turned to my boyfriend for support and encouragement.
He did not respond as I had expected.
"You know what your real problem is? You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it," he said.
Last night, Kansas State beat the University of Kansas in basketball, and I'm still flying high over my alma mater's victory over our intrastate rival.
A sports reporter I follow on Twitter observed that although Kansas State fans are very insecure about the rivalry, Kansas fans lose their mind when we beat them.
Well of course they do, I thought. They expect to win, whereas we are the perennial underdogs and expect the loss.
If you attended a state college, you know exactly what I mean. Most states have a flagship university - in our case, the University of Kansas - and a more affordable and accessible state school system, which I attended. The flagship school, whether it's officially a flagship or just implied, is considered the more prestigious campus.
Parenting a child with autism comes with the longest to-do list in the history of forever. There are IEPs and educational issues, behavioral issues, health issues, diet, sleep and it goes on and on and on and on (and on).
I've spent almost my entire career in credit unions, most recently producing financial education content. One day, while reviewing an article about strategies to get out of debt, it hit me: autism is kind of like being buried in debt.
It's overwhelming, exhausting, depressing and you don't even know where to begin.
Which is why financial management guru Dave Ramsey can offer the perfect advice to autism parents. When it comes to tackling your child's laundry list of challenges, treat it like debt and use Dave's Snowball Method.
This week, the autism community celebrated Haley Moss, a young woman who overcame nonverbal autism and very low expectations from doctors to graduate from law school, take her oath of attorney and begin her career this week at a law firm.
I found Haley on Twitter and began following her. As you can imagine, many Twitter followers wanted to know how she has achieved so much success.
She stressed two things:
1. Her success has not been a straight line. Like every one kid with autism, she took steps back along her path to forward progress. And even now, she said there are tons of things she still struggles with and is working to improve.
2. Her parents embraced her diagnosis and walked a different path with her, never looking back or wishing things were different.
If you're like most parents of autistic children, you've spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying about your child's future. I know I have.
There's the obvious worry: what will happen to them when you're gone?
And then there are the myriad other worries. Will my nonverbal child ever communicate? Will they ever learn how to drive? Will they ever have a job? What happens when they age out of the educational system?
These are all legit concerns. However, you are probably worrying far more than you should. Here are three reasons why.
Like every other community in the world, autism is filled with buzzwords that nearly everyone uses.
And like every other human in the world, some of these buzzwords annoy the shit out of me.
At the top of the list is the word choice, as it is used by Tosh's teachers and therapists. As in, "today Tosh made some poor choices and acted aggressively toward staff."
Now, I'm all about life being a series of choices. In fact, I am absolutely not down with the victim attitude that has taken over America. Everyone is a victim these days. It doesn't take long watching the news or scanning your Facebook feed to wonder if life has become one big contest to see who is the most oppressed.
In the long game of life, happiness and success are indeed a choice.
But if you're a kid with autism, and have a medical disability that prevents you from stopping and deciding how to react when you become agitated or overstimulated, your response is beyond your control.
This month, Tosh will begin homeschooling. Like every parent who makes this decision, I'm both excited and nervous. However, the scales tip more toward exited because I think he will really blossom. We have good supports in place and an exciting opportunity to create our own curriculum that integrates his AAC device. And, we can improve the consistency between all of his therapy and educational providers.
It will require some work up front, but in the long run it will be worth it.
Why homeschool? I know many parents of children with autism who have made this decision for a variety of reasons that include elopement, aggression, bullying, family beliefs/lifestyle and a better learning environment.
The thought of homeschooling can be overwhelming, which prevents many parents from thinking it's a viable option. However, it might be easier than you think.
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!