Firstly, the title is for effect. I’m not a big fan of the term ‘Autism Mum’ and only use it when it’s the only succinct way to describe what I’m talking about. I don’t mind other people using it, I just try not to use it myself. I’m just a mum. I have a child who has autism, so it is a big part of our lives. I’m not however a mum to autism, I’m a mum to my boy. I’m here to help him with his difficulties and celebrate his achievements. Not to label him and allow it to limit him as a result. Secondly, I use the word benefits in a loose, tongue-in-cheek way to describe the following list!
1. The ability to function on only a couple of hours sleep.
Most parents of young children will relate to this one. It’s the role of the young child to keep their parents awake or to waken them at regular intervals throughout the night. If you have more than one child they will usually take it in turns throughout the night to do this, thus keeping you awake for as long as possible with minimal disruption to their own nocturnal routines. If you are a parent of a child with autism, it’s likely this will continue long past the recommended time limit found with ‘neurotypical’ children.
2. Super strong arm muscles
If your child is anything like mine you will regularly need to lift, carry or haul them from place to place or out of harm’s way. The positive aspect of this is near super-human strength in your arms and the ability to lift heavy objects above waist height for prolonged periods of time. There’s an up-side to everything!
3. The ability to plan end execute military-style operations
Any outing anywhere requires many items and lots of forethought. You can’t just pop them in the car and head off for a surprise trip to the park or seaside. All ventures require several bags containing changing materials, clothes, various food items, drinks, new shoes and a variety of toys to amuse in the car or when you reach the destination. You also need to research your desired venue, look for the pitfalls and anticipate any opportunities for meltdown or escape. When daring to go somewhere new you require nerves of steel and an endless supply of hope and optimism that it won’t all just be some big disaster!
4. The ability to ignore stares, tuts and shakes of the head (or at least to pretend that you don’t notice)
When your child has a meltdown or even sometimes when they don’t, when they are just running around exploring their environment or having fun; you encounter the looks of horror, disgust or amazement. Sometimes it can feel like people have never seen a child play. I reason this one with myself by thinking that these people just don’t understand, they have never seen or experienced any type of special need (lucky them!) The upside of this is developing the ability to care less about what people think and just do your best, allow your child some freedom to play and ensure they are safe and having fun whilst they do. We will never educate everyone and there’s no point in arguing or highlighting their ignorance at times. A higher level of tolerance and restraint is a benefit of this one!
5. Being able to hold in the swear words when you sit or stand on yet another toy that’s been left in some random place!
I give myself major brownie points when I manage this one. There are little time bombs all over our house just waiting for an unsuspecting bare foot, hard items to kneel on or sit on when you least expect and many things just put in random places to catch us out! When you’re up cleaning puke or poo in the middle of the night (as we frequently are) the last thing you can be doing with is searing pain in the sole of your foot from an unattended Thomas the Tank or some wheels and axles that have been chewed off a now broken car. The ability to manoeuvre stairs on one foot with arms full of gooey mess is a bonus from this one, as is not screaming out in pain and waking the rest of the household!
6. The ability to have your heart broken into lots of tiny pieces, as you watch your child unable to do something and sometimes when they finally achieve something they have been trying to do for so long.
This is hard. Part of the joy of our children growing up is seeing the big and little achievements along the way. For many children with autism or additional needs, some of these achievements can take so much longer and some may never happen at all. Resilience is a benefit of this one. Getting knocked down many times by the setbacks or endless trying but getting back up and on with it regardless (this is a big thing I’ve noticed about my son. He could teach us all a thing or two about going on trying, perseverance and resilience!)
There are of course many other ‘real’ benefits I get; such as cuddles, kisses, wanting to wrap himself up around me when I lie down and sharing his joy with me at the things he loves. I marvel at his sense of excitement and the look of sheer happiness on his face when he sees something or someone he likes. I hope he can stay so innocent and keep his sense of awe and wonder. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
There are lots of benefits of being a mum (or dad!) What are yours?