Autism Awareness Month: Lessons Learned from Parents
On this Autism Awareness Month, we celebrate the abilities, potential, and beauty of our students with Autism here at The Radiant Spectrum. More importantly, we want to honour their parents and celebrate the love, time, and hard work that parents have dedicated to their children with special needs.
Most parents choose to become a parent because they want to. But having a child with special needs, and becoming a parent to one is never a choice. When you have a child with Autism or any other special needs, there are no “refunds”. Both the parent and the child have to learn to manage and live with Autism, or their special needs.
It is a tough journey. Other than understanding their child’s temperament, habits, personality, and needs, these parents also have to read up and learn about Autism, or any condition their child has. They also have to find means and ways to get advice and learn strategies from professionals and other parents who face similar challenges. Imagine all these stresses, on top of the regular worries of parenting itself.
Here are four valuable lessons I have learned from parents of children with special needs.
Every parent has an innate love for their child. Putting aside differences in parenting styles, I believe all parents love their children unconditionally. I observe this quality more saliently in parents who are raising children with special needs.
Children with Autism often display challenging behaviours which can be overwhelming and puzzling for others to comprehend. Parents of these children, however, are often generous in loving their children for who he/she is, deeply understanding their personalities, raising them for the person they truly are, and unselfishly loving them as their children. These parents see beyond the surface of “mischief”, “naughtiness”, and “trying to avoid tasks”, to consciously take into account that anxiety and emotional regulation are very real factors that contribute to public meltdowns or the lack of compliance and challenging behaviours.
Parenting is an emotional journey with ups and downs. However, parents with children with special needs never fail to love their children unconditionally – even in the worst of times when they are exhausted, frustrated, and angry themselves. They may face countless failures and challenges that feel unending. Their progress with their children may also seem slow, or they may have even seen their years of effort go down the drain due to a single traumatic event. But the one thing that stays, is their unconditional love for their child with special needs.
I often see so many parents taking it upon themselves to learn about interventions and home therapies. Therapies for children with special needs are costly, but these parents try their best to pick up useful skills and resources, some creating their own learning materials too, so as to help their child learn more successfully.
All parents want the best for their children, and unfortunately, children with special needs may not have the best access to societal resources, even today. Parents of these children often have to be so resourceful to think out of the box. They also have to be forward-thinking to plan the future of their children. This is not to say that their children have no say about their own lives. Rather, these parents take the time and effort to carefully explore options that are more feasible for their child’s learning needs, while still balancing their interests to help them lead as meaningful a life as possible. Painting, floral arrangement, art and craft, and cooking are just some of the areas I have seen parents venture into, in hopes of finding a source of income for their children in the future. This forward-thinking mentality helps their children to keep unnecessary stressors away and get real about their survival in society.
The third lesson I have learned from parents raising children with special needs is their level of resilience. Parenting a child with special needs is challenging and tough, but some families have more than one child with special needs, or with varying ages and conditions, resulting in double or triple the challenges, efforts, therapies, behaviours, meltdowns, financial and emotional stress.
Resilience in these parents is underrated and often overlooked. Their capacity to accept, give and love in times of toughness is amazing and not everyone is able to display such strength.
And despite the seemingly endless challenges and having so much on their plates while parenting their children with special needs, these parents still show love and compassion in abundance for others, including us, the teachers who work with their children. The parents at TRS are some of the most polite and considerate people you will ever meet. They laugh harder and feel deeper, despite all the weight on their shoulders. When they meet others who may stereotype their child or cast glances at them, they move past those biases to focus on theirs and their child’s needs instead. Parenting with compassion is a quality that should be more recognized.
Parting Thoughts on Autism Awareness Month
We dedicate this article to all the loving, resourceful, resilient, and compassionate parents of children with special needs. Parenting is a challenging role to take on, and there is no handbook on how to be a parent of a child with special needs. Yet these parents have been nothing short of amazing and admirable. As we celebrate the successes and potential of our children and students with special needs, let’s not forget to honour all the parents who have been relentlessly working hard and loving hard as well!