Susan's Blog

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Getting to the Zen of Autism Parenting

When you think about it, being a successful autism parent is an incredible feat. There are so many difficulties you have to rise above. There are traumas you have to push through. There is the courage of advocacy that you have to create out of thin air. Many of us have to become new people; I know that I did.  It is as if we are reincarnated, reborn with these children of ours.

Perhaps my strength was always there.  Indeed, my parents and sister would attest that I have always been strong. But the strength I had in my childhood through my twenties was a kind of vivacious boldness, not the courage that comes from standing on bottomless fear and uncertainty. When I became Nat’s mom at 27, I was a bit of an amoeba, a tiny speck of an adult, just as unformed and little as he was. In some ways, it is as if Nat and I grew up together.

We all grow up with our babies, though. And we move along and develop beyond the grief and bewilderment that comes with the earliest years, the diagnosis days. So many parents I have met along the way, in my nineteen years of post-diagnosis three-year-old Nat, my six years of blogging and my fourteen years of writing articles, have come and gone. This is because they have been able to move on and adapt to the autism; they have found their peace or else they have figured enough out not to need to talk to me through the blog or email anymore. This is the way it works; we push through the difficulties and get to new places, new phases, new lives.

Some of us forget trauma more quickly than others. I seem to take forever. Lately, for example, I have been going through a struggle with my mountain bike, in that the chain slips so that it feels like it is going out of gear. I get shaken out of my Zen, my meditative state, when this happens.  I count on biking to get me to that zoned-out frame of mind where my thoughts are benign, going round and round like the tires.  This merging with the exercise and the moment gives me, similar to my bellydancing, a happiness and a high that I’ve otherwise never experienced — and believe me, I did inhale once upon a time.  Nothing comes close to being on the edge of physical exertion and then having the difficulty recede, and you go flying.  So when that chain slips, *thunk*, it is like a splash of cold water in my sunwarmed face.

(I have taken the bike into my shop four or five times, and each time they have reassured me it is fixed. My bike is old, so I don’t feel that I have much of a pedal to stand on, as it were, in terms of complaining. But I did complain, at long last, and eventually they replaced my derailleur free of charge.)

But I keep having dreams that my chain is slipping. I now have a stick in my muddy subconsciousness that stands out, getting in the way of the flow and even threatening to poke me in the eye. I can’t simply ride and be high anymore.  As ridiculous as this may seem to some of you non-bikers, I have been traumatized by that slippage. It takes more effort now to find that bliss. But maybe then once I’m there, it is stronger.  That stupid thunk is not going to stop me. And more and more, I can suspend my fear and just fly again.

I may have learned that perseverance from mothering Nat. His exquisiteness, the high of getting it right with him, is the prize, is why I do it the way I do. But as with the biking, I will always have a layer of consciousness to my being with Nat, a small sharp flash of the knife blade, the fear that something will fall apart that I cannot handle. I push myself to do things with him, to build a callus, to pile mattresses over this tiny pea, but I still feel it.

With Nat about to come home to live, for possibly 6 weeks, once school ends for him on November 11, I am faced with this issue once again. I think back to the one time — the one time! — I have ever felt simply one with the moment while being with Nat, and that was last year when I went alone with him to Disney world. I forgot myself there. Nat was an excellent Disney companion, because he liked what I liked (scary rides and junk food). We were the same, he and I. We were in some ways just like when he was born, two beings trying to figure it all out. But at Disney we were the same in that we wanted the same exact thing: fun. That time I pushed through the hard stuff and found myself aloft, probably right when the Splash Mountain raft got to the summit and was poised to crash downward. Within that screamy high moment, I found the Zen of parenting Nat, in that I was actually just like him.


Finding the ability to put aside that “tiny pea”, even for a little while, is one of the hardest parts of this journey. So glad you’ve discovered what you need to do to quell it. Wishing you a great six weeks with Nat, and a peaceful transition!

— added by kim mccafferty on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Another gorgeous post! With my Aspergian kiddo, who also has the more serious issue of a mental illness, I find I never quite grow past the grief. I’m not drowning in it, of course, but I keep getting hit by a wave here and there.

— added by Stephanie on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm