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How to Cut Ties and Create Your Own Special Needs Space

autism parenting holidays personal development self care Nov 05, 2021

Halloween was only a few days ago, and already special needs families are worried about the holidays. Our circumstances are different, but the root cause remains the same for nearly everyone: family members, friends and colleagues deny the autism family experience. 

Here's what that looks like.

  • Hosts who don't put away breakables or provide a quiet space during gatherings.
  • Family members who take it personally when your autistic child isn't visibly delighted by a gift, or doesn't pretend to be interested in their story/show/gadget.
  • Friends, family members and colleagues who imply (or flat-out state) that full-time caregiver parents are too lazy to work. These are usually the same people who refuse to watch your child because it's too difficult.
  • Friends, family members and colleagues who criticize homeschooling, refuse to believe public schools won't educate nonverbal kids, and refuse to believe schools shuffle abusers around like pedofile priests to avoid legal liability. 
  • Those who dismiss your child's compromised immune system.
  • Those who dismiss your child's inability to wear a mask.
  • Anyone who assumes your medical decisions are politically motivated.

The last couple of years have taught me two important things. First, perception is reality. We all react to people and situations based solely on our own biases. It's not that your father or former best friend won't accept your experience. Rather, it's so different than their own, they can't comprehend it. 

All humans do this. In fact, there are probably a few people in your life who are desperate for you to understand their situation. But you don't understand, and it has nothing to do with them. 

Nobody is the villain and nobody is the victim. It's just the hell of being human. If the physicists are to be believed, we each live in a universe of one, and our inability to understand each other is just part of this Earth gig.

The second thing I've learned is that I have some true-blue friends and supportive, loving family members. Like many others around the world, I've spent the past couple of years in a state of emotional and financial distress. The people in my life reacted two ways: some provided as much unconditional love as they could, and others completely denied my experience.

I feel no animosity toward the second group, because I believe everyone is doing the very best that they can in life with what they have.

However, I've also stopped interacting with them. That's my right and it's your right, too.

Everyone in life must chart their own path. Not everyone is cut out for the special needs journey, and regrettably, we must leave those people behind. This experience isn't unique to special needs families, everyone must build their own life that is best suited for them.

However, if you have a family member who requires full time care, you don't have the time or the energy for those who deny your experience. We have limited resources and we must use them wisely.

So what now?

Thankfully, you can tighten your circle without much drama. There's no need for a loud, showy statement of boundaries or ultimatums. You don't have to explain yourself and you don't owe anyone anything. Chances are, you've spent years trying to explain yourself. You've already offered more than enough constructive communication, I'm sure of it.

I recommend a polite ghosting approach. Start by turning down invitations with a vague "I'm sorry, I'm just so busy" excuse. Let the phone go to voice mail more often. Answer texts and messages with polite acknowledgement and leave it at that. Stop interacting on social media. Like fewer posts, don't comment, don't send direct messages. Just slowly turn the volume down to zero. The algorithm will help you along, removing you from their feeds and vice versa.

Some people will notice the change and realize they want to keep a relationship with you, and put forth new effort. I really, really value effort and feel like these are people worth keeping, even if they make you crazy sometimes.

However, most people who deny your experience won't even notice you're gone. They quickly replace you with someone else, as we all do when people come and go from our lives.

With time, you'll settle into a new village of supporters and with it will come peace of mind. I'm so thankful for the new friendships I've made with the time and energy I used to waste on others. 

As we close out this year, I'm experiencing fewer pangs of jealousy toward people who take nice vacations, cheer their children on in sports or look forward to retirement. The more work I put into building a new life, the less broken I feel. The more friendships I make and nurture, the less I'm alone. We are truly different, not less.

However, that begins with cutting out those who believe otherwise. If you're seeking permission or encouragement to do so, consider this your sign.

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