Thursday, 3 November 2016

From cold mother to super parent in less than a life time


Becoming a parent can be easy for some, more difficult for others. Being a parent can be the same. Some take to it like a fish to water and for others it can be a daily struggle.  I've taken to it OK I guess.  I don't know how I would have taken to it without the help I've had though.  This help and the changing attitudes in society has meant I'm no longer the 'cold mother' I would have been called 70 years ago.  These days I'm a 'super parent' and all because my boys have autism.

Less than a lifetime ago, in 1948, The Times Magazine ran an article suggesting that autism in children was caused by their mothers. Many people with autism have difficulty engaging with the world, or at least appear to. This article suggested that these 'frosted children' became autistic because their 'refrigerator mothers' failed to bond with them. Autism was caused by poor parenting.

Had I been a mother then, I may have been blamed for Anthony's autism. I may have lost him to some kind of state-run institution.  He may have been pumped full of various narcotics in an attempt to 'normalise' or placate his behaviour. Despite looking down on the face of my child and loving him, being prepared to do anything to help him and desperately following the advice of health professionals, I would have been the 'cold mother', the 'bad parent'.


But thankfully, it is not 1948.  Now, although there is still some uncertainty as to the cause of autism, most evidence points to it being a genetic condition. The very first thing said to me upon our eldests' diagnosis was "It's nothing you did or didn't do.  This is not your fault."

Indeed, not only is autism no longer my fault, mums (and dads) like me have recently been hailed by the media as a 'super parents' following their recent coverage of a new study into helping their autistic kids.

Super parent? I don't often feel like a super parent. I feel like I'm in a constant up hill battle, fighting for my kids rights to an education, support and their acceptance in society. That doesn't sound super to me.  Mostly it feels tiring, exhausting actually. My only super power is being to do all this on less than four hours sleep a night for the last nine years.

Over this time I've developed the skills my kids have needed me to. I remember having a feeling of disappointment after Anthony had his first speech and language therapy session. There was no intensive flash card, instead the therapist watched me try to play with my son.  Then the therapist had a play and pointed out a few things she was doing. I quickly realised that I was being given strategies to do therapy at home. It was simple things like encouraging gap filling, encouraging requesting, encouraging eye contact and all just by changing the way I spoke and moved.


Our second child needed more assistance.  I had to watch for the slightest attempt to communicate, to request or engage and use that to work with David. It included learning Makaton sign language. Our speech therapist was making me the delivery mechanism for the therapy. I was given the strategies and equipment to turn every encounter with my kids into an opportunity for communication.

Giving parents of autistic children training to communicate with their kids like this, was the focus of research published last week in the Lancet. It's been reported by many British newspapers and media as "Super-parenting improves children's autism." The research concludes that skills, not dissimilar to that which I gathered from our therapists and courses, helps parents engage with their autistic children.  This resulted in some improvements for some children with autism.  These up-skilled parents are the 'super parents'.


On the one hand I'm glad to see that the efforts and work of parents with autistic children is being recognised with such a title. On the other, it's a bit of a non-story.   I do not believe I would have loved my beautiful sons any less 70 years ago.  I do not believe I would have done any less to help them.  I do not believe I am any more or less a parent to them today than I would have wanted to be then.

All that has really changed is the perception of my children and the support I receive.  Our therapists and services have given me a set of tools to engage and interact with our sons.  None of our therapies are simply dispensed at an institution or health centre. They're strategies utilised to expand my sons' horizons on a daily basis.  Batman has a utility belt that provides him with equipment and gadgets to make it easier or possible for him to achieve his objective.  Well, if having a utility belt of strategies makes me a super parent then I suppose I am?

So goodbye cold mother and hello super parent?  Batman is still Batman without his utility belt right? Or is he just Bruce Wayne in a silly costume?  I'm still my sons mother without the support, but having the support and strategies makes for a greater chance of success when working with them.

All I really want is to continue to provide for and parent my kids in the best way possible.  I want to help them engage and grow up to be whatever they wish to be. And to continue to break down the barriers that they face and the attitudes that can still be seen towards my 'frosty children'. Because some day soon people will recognise that it's not me who is super at all.. it's my kids.  I'm just a parent with a well stocked utility belt.


Written by the average super-parent of super kids

A synopsis of this post was in the Letters page in the Guardian

25 comments:

  1. Gosh haven't things come along way and what a huge journey you have been on so far. It's no wonder your utility belt is so very well stocked! Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub lovely x

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  2. Thank goodness society has moved on so far. I love your analogy of batman with or without the suit - you certainly will always be your boys' mother and no one can take that role away from you. No wonder you've got a metaphorically well-stocked utility belt - the support you've received has been wonderful but you are right - your love for them would have been the same years ago with or without the help and isn't it the super power of love that carries you over the hurdles - both the highs and lows? #coolmumclub (ps struggling to comment with my justsayingmum credentials but trying!)

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  3. I respectfully disagree I think you are super especially on 4 hours sleep! I loved how you linked this with the refrigerator mums reference from earlier research. At least we aren't being blamed anymore. Great post! 🌟 Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

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  4. Oh how I wish my grandmother were alive to read your post! Her older son had autism and my grandmother, who was widowed in her 40s, had a gargantuan amount of responsibility. She ended up having no choice than to go to work and move her son into a facility. Fortunately, she was able to become a board member of the facility and take as active a role in his life as she possibly could under the circumstances.

    I'm so glad that things have changed and the knowledge of autism has become much more widespread. Thank you for this great post. #bestandworst

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  5. I hadn't realised what it would have been like for parents with autistic children back in the 1940's but thank goodness society has moved on! #ablogginggoodtime

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    1. Honestly, neither had I. Things are definitely improving, but maybe still a way to go!

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  6. I agree that it is great that the efforts and work of parents with autistic children is finally being recognised - you have some lovely phraseology here particularly 'I'm just a parent with a well stocked utility belt' - fab post! #ablogginggoodtime x

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  7. I'm so glad that we are not viewed as refrigerator mums anymore! great post x #blogginggoodtime

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  8. A powerful and insightful post. As parents our resilience is tested daily but I sense yours more so than others. You deserve the title of super parent for going above and beyond the norm. I am sure learning Makaton must have been a challenge. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your world. #ablogginggoodtime

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  9. Our kids really are super, aren't they? We do our best as parents, with the tools and knowledge at our disposal, but in the end it's all for our special people. The next step is for others to realise the truth - that our kids are perfect, just as they are.

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  10. You are a super parent-this was such an insightful post x

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  11. I'm in total shock that that was the case. How awful! It's so good that things have changed so much since then and people aren't so blind to the reality of autism. Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays. Kaye xo

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  12. Oh gosh isn't it awful how mothers were blamed for Autism & I'm guessing any other issue their children had too! I think super parent is the perfect word as I can imagine how much work you & others have put in! One of my kiddies needed speech since he was 2 & lots of work at home to go along with it. But that extra effort from the parents does make a huge difference! Thanks so much for joining us at #BloggerClubUK x

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  13. Thank goodness we live in a much more accepting and forward thinking world these days. I had no idea that mothers used to be blamed for autism. It's shocking. Thank you for sharing with the #DreamTeam

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  14. Just getting through each day is a challenge. Some days, even when I have not achieved our goals, I know it took super-parenting just to get through. Autism is hard to live with sometimes.

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    1. Absolutely - getting through the day is a total achievement in itself!

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  15. Wow I can't believe mothers were blamed back then - it sounds insane and thank goodness we have moved with the times. This is a really interesting post - thank you for sharing.

    Ahhh it sounds like you had a great hen night, if you can't get wasted then, then when can you? I LOVE the fact you were drinking out of Paw Patrols cups hahahah!

    Thank you for linking up to #KCACOLS and I hope to see you back again on Sunday x

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  16. I think it was really unfortunate, the way some media outlets covered the whole 'super-parent' thing. It was an angle they used to get people to click, but as you say, it didn't really mean that better parents reduce autsim struggles. It was just about research that had developed strategies to really help engage with autistic children. It wasn't meant to be a reflection on parents' abilities at all. I am always happy to learn new ways to help Biggest communicate. It's a learning curve we all go through, every day - it's just that in this instance it was scientifically measured and collated to actually help people on the same journey. #SpectrumSunday

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  17. Thank you for capturing so well the ambivalence parents can feel about doing their best for their kids. I don't feel like a super hero or even an every day hero. I am just doing my job as I see it. Maybe we need to lay off the broad categorizations, and simply meet people for who they are and where they are with support and compassion.

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  18. Thank goodness times have changed but it still worries me that there is a perception that differing parenting can produce differing results on the child - that puts a ridiculous pressure on you as a parent. You sound like you have incredible support system about you and as you say you are just trying to do the best to parent your children the best - that's all we can all try to do #postsfromtheheart

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  19. I reckon all parents are super parents (well almost all anyway!) #postsfromtheheart

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  20. I loved this post so much, because I can relate to it all, from the lack of sleep to the utility belt! I think over the years our utility belts become better stocked as we become more skilled, adding what we've gleaned from one therapist to what we've learned from another. It's so hard to imagine what life would have been like in the past for children - for us. I agree also that I feel less like batman and more like a mountain climber most days, but then maybe even batman felt that way when the joker kept turning up! Thank you so much for sharing this at #PostsFromTheHeart people need to understand the reality behind the headlines.

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  21. Thank god times have changed, its horrible the way Drs used to treat those back in the day. My Husbands Great-grandmother was given the electric shock treatment all because she was going through the change!
    I agree with you in the sense of not being a super parent as you're doing what you'd do whether your boys were autistic or not. #PostsFromTheHeart

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  22. Times have definetly changed.I shudder to think what would have been in the 1940's.A mothers love is the same if it's 1940 or 2017. Lovely post #PostsFromTheHeart

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  23. Sounds like you're doing a super job - I like the utility belt idea! #postsfromtheheart

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