Today I am writing about something that troubles me deeply when it comes to parents of children with autism. I speak of mollycoddling. I don’t mean to sound harsh but the truth is we are overprotective about our children. Maybe not all of us. But most of us. And we need to stop that. Now.
I have done it plenty of times myself when my son was very young. I know that as parents we feel frustrated when we deal with our children. Autism is not an easy thing to live with. Most of our frustration stems from the fact that we cannot ‘fix’ our children. We cannot learn instead of them. We cannot interact instead of them. We cannot spare our children the pain they go through on a daily basis. And we feel helpless. We are the parents, right? We should be able to help our kids — and we feel like failures every day that we can’t.
And instead of helping them learn at their own pace, we do things for them. We answer questions directed at them. We make choices for them — what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep, what to watch. We do it all because deep inside we feel sorry for them. But that is absolutely the worst thing to do. We need to get them to do things for themselves. Of course I am talking of children who can do things by themselves but are stopped because parents feel the obligation to do it for them. Don’t feed the child after he has stopped eating. Don’t go and stand outside their bathroom every single day after you have made sure they know how to bathe. Don’t buy everything without explaining what it costs and why. In short, stop making them more dependent. Autism, in many cases, leads to a life of dependence anyway. You don’t have to add to it out of pity. Let the child make mistakes, learn and make more mistakes. Be patient. Be supportive. Be firm when you see bad behaviour. Help only when needed. Otherwise you cause more pain to your child in the long run than autism ever could.
I meet a lot of parents who come to me to talk about their kids. Academics preys on their minds. Independence in daily life doesn’t. Understanding the world doesn’t. They change their lives to suit the children thereby never teaching them the value of adjusting. Even 14/15 year-old boys sleep with their mother. 11-year-olds are fed by hand at home (when at school they eat by themselves most happily). People buy their children burgers at 12 in the night because they are throwing a tantrum. How does any of this help their children at age 30 or 40 or 60? You can’t outgrow autism. You can only train so that independence is possible to the fullest extent of their potential. And that is the ultimate goal, isn’t it?
So take a deep breath. And stand back just a little. Let your child ask for help. Let her or him come to you. One day, after all your hard work, you will realize how far they have come. It’s the best gift you can give them — and yourself.