What makes a “good” Aspie mother? (with a giveaway!)

 

Last week, Gina Crosley-Corcoran of the blog The Feminist Breeder wrote on her Facebook fan page that her oldest son was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  When I saw her post, I responded as I always do to parents sharing this news for the first time: “WELCOME TO THE CLUB!”

In my essay in the book The Good Mother Myth, I write about my son’s diagnosis:

…I hardly mourned when my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was seven. After all, as countless psychologists reminded me, this was likely the same neurological quirk that made Bill Gates the wealthiest man in the world.  Hell, in my wholly overeducated social circle (I am one of very few with “just” a bachelor’s degree), you’d be hard pressed to find a young boy without a spot on the autism spectrum.  

The words here are elegant and composed, but in 2007 I was a wreck.  In truth, I had been a wreck ever since my perfectly adorable infant opened his mouth in February 2000 and SCREAMED.  He wouldn’t stop for months.

 

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So I did mourn: I mourned the stubbornly persistent belief that parenting was supposed to look like it did on TV, that my child and I would be so naturally in sync that I would know his every need, that my child would be warmly accepted into the fabric of modern society by virtue of his very existence.

Instead, I had a kid who was regularly singled out by frustrated relatives as well as preschool, kindergarten, and grade school teachers for not being their version of “normal.” I had his preschool classmate tell me, upon learning whose mother I was: “I don’t like Elliott.  He screams a lot.”

I have to pause here an collect myself because I am tearing up.  I haven’t thought about that preschool experience in years, yet the memory still makes me clench my teeth so hard I can feel my crowns loosen.

It is painful to imagine a world that might not love your child as much as you love him.  This is true for any parent of any kid, with or without special needs.  A childhood diagnosis, however, kicks this panic up a thousand notches, for moms especially.

Why moms?  Because we parent under the excruciating glare of  The Good Mother Myth.

 

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Gina herself has an essay in this anthology, a poignant look at abuse and neglect she suffered in her childhood and her determination to break the cycle with her own kids.  I write in my own essay about how much I fear passing on my family’s tendency towards anxiety:

My seven-year-old daughter Miriam bites her nails.  She chews them down to angry red nubs that even I, her loving (good!) mother, must admit are really quite ugly.  “It’s a bad habit,” she laments, using language she learned from a Berenstain Bears book on the subject.  “I want to stop it, but I can’t.”  I tell her I know how she feels.  When I was her age, my fingers were raw and bloody too, like the tips of ten half-eaten hot dogs.  

You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway: I believe that autism is genetic.  My wholly unscientific theory is that in the latter part of the 20th century, nerds and geeks who might have been isolated from one another were suddenly let loose on the campuses of research universities and liberal arts colleges where they met, fell in love, and decided to breed (this theory holds true for my friends in same-sex couples, who selected donors that shared their interests, like, y’know, science and engineering).

Gina is very well-known in the blogosphere and in social media, so naturally the post about her son drew a lot of traffic.  What drew even MORE traffic was a series of followup comments and posts between Gina and autistic self-advocates who objected to what they perceived as Gina’s desire to “cure” her son of his condition.  I won’t take a side in the debate, which as of this writing has devolved into a very bitter affair that includes name-calling, accusations of lying and harassment, the works.  Nothing good comes of that, online or elsewhere.

Here’s what I do know: there is genuine and deep pain on all sides.  Autistic adults hurt because they feel humiliated and denigrated when the complexity of their lives is reduced to the image of a missing puzzle piece and ridiculous stunts like turning the Empire State Building blue.  I can’t speak for Gina, but holy crap did I feel hurt and vulnerable when people tried to tell me the “best” way to support my son’s diagnosis.  For a few years there I walked around like an open wound.  Every suggestion stabbed my heart to a very familiar refrain:

“YOU ARE NOT A GOOD MOTHER.”

 

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There is good news: my son is the coolest boy in the universe, and I would not change a damn thing about him.  Not a damn thing!  I WANT to give him the tools he needs to be a happy, socially successful adult., so I offer him help with skills that don’t come naturally–like reciprocal conversation, sensory processing, nonverbal communication, etc–but I wouldn’t change him.  He knows he has Asperger’s, and he’s not ashamed of it.  In fact, he wrote a short essay for his school newspaper about his life as an Aspie.  I love him so much that I want not only to be a GOOD mother, but the BEST mother that he needs.

I don’t always succeed, though, and that’s why I’m sharing some other good news:  the kind people at Seal Press, publishers of The Good Mother Myth, want to send a Radical Housewife reader a copy of the book for FREE.  Yes, FREE!  In addition to Gina and me, contributors include Sharon Lerner, K.J. Dell’Antonia, Soraya Chemaly, Jennifer Baumgardner, and many other smart, funny, thoughtful parents who are committed to doing the best they can.

Which is pretty good, I think.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

15 Responses to “What makes a “good” Aspie mother? (with a giveaway!)”

  1. Jess Banks says:

    I’ll add another thing that we can do as parents of spectrum kids, as having one of those kids as well as having BEEN one of those kids. I would actually argue that being attuned to your kid’s sensory environment is more important than any skill in deescalating a meltdown in progress.

    I developed a disconnect from my surroundings as a coping mechanism, but having reconnected so I could be sensitive to things that might be stressful for my son also made it more possible for me to avoid/escape unpleasant stimuli, which put spoons back in my supply.

    Be aware of harsh lighting, electrical buzzing or rhythms from appliances, strong smells, contrasting fabrics, and the hundred other messages that your senses are delivering. Your kid doesn’t have the “spam filter” for their nervous system that most allotypical people have. But your awareness can help modulate those overwhelming stimuli and head off stresses for everyone.

  2. Shannon says:

    Oh my goodness, yes. Once we started looking at the world from Elliott’s point of view, we discovered so much that was triggering. He wasn’t being “difficult” when he melted down at a restaurant–he was struggling with all of the unfocused noise and visual stimuli. Ditto the tags in the clothes, the flashing lights at the Mall of America, the gooey texture of rice pudding, etc. etc. I even discovered how much of the stimuli was bothering ME, when before I could only say, “jeez, I hate shopping in malls” or “Bath & Body Works makes me want to puke.”

  3. Megan Bishop says:

    On some days, being a good Aspie mom (or any mom, for that matter) might mean that you all survived and made it through the day. On some days, it’s that you were able to go above and beyond. Most of all, I think the key to being a good mom, especially if your child is on the spectrum or has other health problems, is being an advocate for your kid.

  4. Natalie says:

    Of course you’re a good mother! Any mother who cares enough to even think about these questions and wrestles with how to be a good mother is a good mother.

  5. Jennifer R says:

    This is going to sound dumb, but I don’t think you need anyone, especially strangers to tell you that you’re a good mother — I think that cheapens it. I am sure that you’re doing your best with the information and resources you have and are committed to your child. That’s all that matters.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for posting this! I have and do work with many students with Asperger’s Syndrome. They are some of the most caring and sweet kids I have ever met. Aspergers is misunderstood by many people in our society and the parents of these unique kids often feel the brunt of it. Thank you for helping to educate the rest of us. :)

  7. Suzanne says:

    Yes, there is pain on all sides. Thanks for writing this.

  8. Amber P says:

    The good mother myth I struggle with is not being “good enough” I struggle with the fact that I work, not be only do I have to work but I enjoy it. A “good mother” is suppose to want to be with her kids at all times! At least that’s the myth.

  9. Susan Kishel says:

    Well, I don’t really know you too well, but at first glance I’d say you’ve got this handled.

  10. Doe says:

    I struggle with making time. I often feel as though someone is being left out, not getting their fair share of attention. There is an ebb and flow to all of this, it really depends on who needs what in a given moment but somedays it feels as though I am being pulled in three different directions and the hardest ‘puller’ wins.
    Thank you for your honesty, I appreciate you keeping it real.

  11. Joan Kinsley says:

    I used to suffer from low self esteem as a mom when it came to my Aspie son. But no more – I know I am am great mom to him. I fought and fought and fought to get him the right services at school, the right therapies, the right meds – because whether it is genetic or just dumb luck, my son has a harder path than “neuro typical” kids. And as any great parent would, I worked to break down as many obstacles for him as I possibly could. He has learned so many strategies over the last 4 years (with the help of an amazing community of docs, therapists and educators) and I never imagined that he would be as successful as he is today. An Aspie diagnosis was the best thing that happened to us. It opened up a whole new world of compassion, understanding and tools to help our whole family grow. I am grateful for my son and everything he is – because he made me into a better person – a better mom – than I ever thought I could be. If you are struggling as a mom now, keep the faith and fight for your kid. It gets better.

  12. Lindsay says:

    Sure! I see lots of love; that’s what counts.

  13. Kristen says:

    I strive to raise my kids the way that you do.

  14. Kristen says:

    I struggle with finding the balance between researching an issue to death and following my gut.

  15. Steph says:

    I really appreciate this blog post- I will definitely be following you! My twin has Asperger’s. If I could go back in time, I would tell my parents to give him more help with social skills and making friends. Also, to be more patient with him and nourish his need for structure and safety, while also raising him to take responsibility for himself- but isn’t that any parent’s challenge?

    They focused a lot on getting him through academics, but ultimately it are his social deficits that plague him now. To my parents’ credit when we were in high school around 2000 there were almost zero resources for teachers or parents. I think he needed more explicit rules about what is socially normal and why, but by now it’s late- it offends him as an adult to hear those sorts of things . (Another complicated aspect is my Dad has had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder for years and did not model great behavior to my brother.)

    I agree Internet kvetching is no good but it bothers me when people propose there is a “cure” for Asperger’s. I have no doubt (and neither does science) that there is a strong genetic component- after all, I am his twin – born/raised under nearly identical conditions- and neurotypical! And while Aspies have social disadvantages many experience an intellectual richness that others can only dream of. Our society would not be the same without them.

    Also to address your question, I don’t think it would be fair of me to answer, but I think our societal preoccupation with innate “goodness” is beside the point. Do you try your hardest to mother to the best of your ability.? It seems like you do…

    Hugs!

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"With The Radical Housewife, Shannon Drury shares her journey as a stay-at-home mother and activist, filling in a wide gap within the feminist sphere. Drury not only takes the reader through her own feminist awakening and activist career, but also provides a bit of Feminist 101, reviewing the history of US feminism in an easily accessible way. A mixture of unflinching honesty and snarky humor, this book serves as a necessary reminder that mothers are an integral part of the feminist movement, despite not always being recognized as such." --Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth