We live in such an unpredictable world with school shootings, racism, disastrous weather, and now a pandemic with variants. These are just a few reminders of things out of our control. As a parent, especially one who is raising a special needs son of color, I have had to accept what I cannot change and work hard to change the things I can. I live in the now, not what is to come when I leave this earth.
At home, you are the parent and make sure to keep your children safe from harm, until they grow up, start working, grow their own personal relationships and eventually leave the nest. So, while you have them for those years in between adulthood and beyond, keep yourself open to things that they don’t understand and cause emotional trauma and stress. For us personally, we don’t watch the news every day, although bombarded with this on our radios, PC screens and cell phones, we try to keep this at a minimum.
Parenting a child in the midst of a chaotic world means you have to keep some things in mind:
Communicating is so important with your children, especially when they don’t understand why things happen to people and/or why people act the way they do. So, wait for them to approach you about things on the news that don’t make sense or cause them emotional distress. Really… anytime something or someone is causing them to think twice about who they are as a person, how they think or even what they look like. Keep an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions. Listening is key, that’s why we have two ears and one mouth.
Most autistic individuals’ mindsets are one of predictability. They see things as always staying the same and not ever changing. Once there is a change, it rocks their world, and they try to process how it all came to be.
Your job as a parent is to explain that things and people, even time changes. Our teenage autistic son often refers back to when he was years younger and we usually have to remind him that he ages older, not younger, and will soon have responsibilities such as a job and maybe even a car as the years go by (living in the now vs the past). So gently reminding your autistic son or daughter that hurricanes, storms, etc. have occurred for years and are not the first time that events like this have happened. If it still isn’t clear, look up past events in history to ‘show’ your autistic son or daughter what these events looked like (how many people died, buildings, etc.). The more you are willing to share and show, then the more informed and at ease they become with change and the inevitable. Sheltering them is part of your job as a parent but keeping them ignorant won’t help them in the long term.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Telling my autistic son that he had a lifelong disability was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and a close second was bootcamp in the military. But it was also the right thing to do. Denial is knowing what is evident in psychological tests, academic tests, etc. and acting like nothing is wrong. This not only hurts your special needs child now but will be devastating as they grow into adulthood and not knowing who they truly are. This is just my personal opinion, being honest is hard period, but necessary. We don’t always have all the answers and it is OK to tell your special needs son or daughter when you are not sure as well.
Empathize, Empower and Encourage
I am by no means an expert in parenting our special needs child but know a few things and our journey will probably be different from your own but hope that this encourages you to keep advocating for your autistic child no matter how hard it will get, complicated or otherwise and just keep going.