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'.
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