I’m not proud to admit this, but for the longest time I felt that the only way I could really have fun was just with my husband or with my own friends, not with my children. I was not a sit-on-the-floor-and-play with-cars kind of mom, particularly because my firstborn only liked to line them up and look at them, with his thumb in his mouth. But even when Max and Ben came along, “pway wif me” were words that made me feel dull and sleepy. I don’t know why; I had a lot on my plate, I guess. Maybe I thought their expectations were higher than they actually were. It wasn’t until I was an older mom that I grew into my role as Fun Muse, or at least Willing Companion….
No matter the age of your kids, there are ways to have fun—ways that both parents and kids can enjoy. Maybe this is obvious, but it’s important to be reminded of it and keep it in mind during trying times. Too often we let ourselves get dragged under by caregiving obligations, and we forget about simple happiness. Your fun may mean choosing an ordinary, no-fail activity, such as a trip to the playground, where you might bring along a crossword puzzle for yourself—unless, that is, playgrounds are particularly difficult places for your autistic child. (For instance, my friend Sheila’s son used to take every opportunity to scale the high fences that surrounded our park.) Having a few moments to yourself might give you the energy to then enjoy the next moment, when your child needs your attention again.
Ed from Ohio says, “Sometimes we take our son to the park and he uses all the equipment. Sometimes, he will just walk around the tennis courts thirty times. It’s not all fun— but it’s not all bad, either.” This may not sound like much of a rave, but the thing is, parenting any kid is like that: not all fun, and not all bad.
Donna is a mom from Massachusetts who has learned to enjoy her son by seeing things from his point of view: “He loves to jump on a trampoline, ride his bike, and slide down those large, inflatable slides on the moonwalks that every kid seems to have at his or her birthday party.” This past summer her family took a trip overseas. Before the plane took off, the flight attendant explained about emergency landings. Christopher appeared very interested and seemed to be following along in his own safety pamphlet. “He suddenly tugged on my arm to get my attention to show me the illustration of the emergency landing, and the people sliding down the inflated emergency chute,” says Donna. “At that point, he asked, in a perfectly worded sentence (which made me feel very proud of his expressive-language skills), if he could ‘have a turn down the big slide.’ My husband and I chuckled at this sincere request, but we also made sure to keep him away from the exit doors!” Donna and her husband were tickled by Christopher’s way of seeing things, so different from theirs, and thus the plane ride was a bonding experience rather than a stressful one.
No matter how difficult it can be sometimes with children, especially those on the spectrum, many autism parents summon up the energy from somewhere to get their kids out into the world.
“Our kids deserve a childhood!” Kim, my friend in Connecticut wrote to me. When I asked her what she does for fun with them, she had a lot to say: “The kids love swimming and the house we just rented has a pool. That was an easy treat—going to the town pool was too difficult with all three, as you can imagine.” Kim also says that her kids love amusement parks and carousels. “Shocking, isn’t it,” she says jokingly, “they love to spin!” She summed up her thoughts like this: “We try to do everything any parent does with their kids. We might go for a shorter period of time or less frequently, but we’ve never let autism trap us in our home.”
Copyright 2010, Susan Senator