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The 5 Pillars of Autism Parenting

Parenting is hard under the best of circumstances. Small people who look to you for every need.

When your child isn't like other children, your approach to the relationship has to be different too.

I have used my professional experience as a social worker, therapist, and Autism consultant paired with my experience as the parent of an 11 year old non speaking Autistic PDAer and my knowledge of Autism as an Autistic person to create this scaffolding for Autism parenting as a framework for other parents to adopt which is focused on embracing Autism and empowering parents and kids.

  1. Cultivate your Calm

This is a hard job and you can't do it long term without taking care of yourself, and taking care of yourself IS taking care of your child.

Your emotional state is extremely important in parenting your Autistic child. I have to emphasize this:

No matter how inattentive you believe your child to be, no matter what you believe about their emotional insight or empathy skills, your Autistic child is a vibe check machine, and they are calibrated to you.

Your Autistic child coregulates mainly with you. This means that their self-soothing skills can not always get them to a place where they are calm without your calm. This changes over time, but coregulation is much more prominent in our emotional lives than we like to think.

You make a choice when you interact with your child when they are unregulated: you can escalate or you can assuage, which just means that your response can make this worse or better.

But more than just responding in a tough moment, cultivating your calm means that you are operating in a way that helps your child stay calmer too.

The work of cultivating your own calm can be extensive. It includes self-care as well as community-care because you need support to get breaks to do quality self-care in the first place. You may also need to do inner work, therapy, or self re-parenting.

2. Lean into your child's personality

What I'm going to say here is going to bother some of you, but read on, please: your child's personality is fused with being Autistic. Being Autistic means having a brain that works somewhat differently than non-Autistic people. Its structured slightly differently and functions differently.

Spending years trying to untangle Autism from the rest of your child is an impossible task. The best way to ensure your child's success and happiness is to work with the way they learn and function.

That said, encourage and participate in their special interests. If they love sharks, watch Shark Week with them, check out books on sharks, visit an aquarium or watch live shark cams on YouTube.

Don't be afraid that if they only are interested in one thing they will never learn anything else. It's not true. You can use their interests to foster reading, exploring, math, and more.

Autistic brains specialize, which can be used for the basis or a career one day or just joy. Joy matters.

A lot of parents of Autistic kids are looking for ways to change behaviors of their children. If the behavior you want to change is part of their Autistic traits, the goal shouldn't be to eliminate thier Autistic traits but to accommodate them in a way that is safe.

This is probably one of the hardest parts of parenting Autistic children: things are probably not going to all go as you planned. But, I can promise you that accepting the child you have and allowing them to be themselves even if that means life looks different for you, will be a more enjoyable life for you both. This leads to the third pillar of Autism Parenting.

3. Trash the conventional parenting advice

It doesn't work. Rewards and punishments don't work for Autistic children who are generally intrinsically motivated, avoidant of demands, unable to comply with some rules, and sensitive and easily traumatized.

Some Autistic kids are labeled as difficult, bad, lazy, defiant or similar. These kids have nervous systems that respond to inequality (power struggles) and demands as threats.

Some Autistic kids will comply with requests, do things they don't want to do and participate in rewards based activities because their nervous systems tell them they must comply to be loved and protected.

Some Autistic children reared on rewards and punishments then see all activities and interactions with others as transactional--what do I get for doing this?

None of these are the basis of a quality relationship. Instead, parents of Autistic children need to look for other sources for parenting advice. There are plenty of Autistic adults and Autistic parents/professionals, like myself, offer alternatives.

In the US, parents are expected to be able to control their children and children's behaviors are a reflection of their parenting. As a parent of an Autistic child, you may be made to feel like you are a permissive parent (and therefore doing a bad job). You need to unlearn what has been imparted by our culture and the advice because it won't work for your child and the judgements of you are without merit.

The goal must always be to allow your child to be--accommodation. You may be able through great effort to make your child do more of what is "expected" or "acceptable," but you will damage a square peg when you pound it through a round hole.

4. Use your advocacy voice

I wish the world were set up for our children and for us, but it isn't. Things are so much better than they once were, but the way things are now, you will need to practice standing up for your child and yourself much more than you expected.

You are going to need to defend your child's behavior, your parenting, your lifestyle. You're going to have to work with schools, doctors and therapists and programs and insurance companies to get need your child what they need. Depending on your situation, you may have to fight.

You will need to know you and your child's rights. You will need to write and speak assertively. This may be hard, but you can do it. There's nuance to this skill. You may be educating others while you advocate.

5. Neurodiversity affirming everything.

Your parenting should affirm and accommodate your child. And everything else needs to be affirming to thier needs as well. This is harder than it sounds. This means that everyone your child spends time with accepts them and creates an environment that works for them. Neurodiversity affirming education, speech therapy, occupational therapy, play groups, family life all need to be accepting and make space for sensory needs, processing time, down time, screen time, special interests and more.

It may mean creating these spaces and educating professionals. If they are open to this, they are worth the effort. If they aren't, you might look elsewhere.

The overall theme behind the 5 Pillars of Autism Parenting is acceptance of your child and empowerment for you both.

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