Spectrum Solutions

Personal Growth Development for Children, Teens, and Adults on the Spectrum

You Don't Have to Be The Huxtables to Parent Well on the Autism Spectrum

Do you parent as well as the Huxtables?

I don't know if you remember the Cosby Show from the 80's.  Cliff and Clair Huxtable are witty, playful, and always seem to have the answers to the various antics and challenges their five children present.

And if you're as old as I am, you may even remember the Cleaver family and the Brady Bunch! They never seemed to lose their tempers, have any messy problems, or even have their hair out of place!

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You know and I know that parenting does not come in a neat little package.  Actually, it comes as a jack in the box.  You wind up the box, and you never quite know what's going to pop out next :)

 

I want to share my experience and a composite of several other experiences from parents who have unique children with a constellation of personality, temperaments, and challenges.  Not every parent is perfect (surprise!).  And I'm definitely full of my own flaws and failures (just ask my wife and kids!).  But I do hope to offer to guidelines to help you be a fine parent to your children.

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Examine Your Own Template

It's very important to parent consciously!  Oftentimes, we grow up with a certain experience of our parents.  If we are not conscious of how we were raised, we will tend to pass that same pattern along in our own parenting styles. 

On the one hand, if we idealize the way we were parented, we may blindly follow that template without thinking about some of the weaknesses in the way we were raised.  No parents are perfect!

If our parents were much less than perfect, we may then tend to demonize their parenting style without thinking about some of the things they may have done right.

I know this is not an all or nothing situation, but you get the idea. 

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

What do I like about the way I was raised?

What was missing?

What did my father provide or not provide?

What did my mother provide or not provide?

Learn From the Tiger Mother

parenting children with autism

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The Tiger Mother is all the rage in literary circles.  Is she right or wrong?  I'm not controversial enough to voice my opinion on this one, but I'm thinking about two incredible characters on the scene of American history: Hellen Keller and Temple Grandin.

Helen Keller, as you know, was handled with a 'hands off' approach by her parents.  Her parents believed she was too fragile to withstand any discipline, and as a result, Helen remained trapped in her world of not being able to see or communicate.

Through strict and loving discipline and limits, Annie Sullivan was able to set Helen Keller free to be able to learn, communicate, and share much wisdom with all of us. 

Temple Grandin attributes the strict expectations of her parents to the fact that she has come as far as she has.  There was a lot of love, but there were expectations too.  She laments that many parents of children on the spectrum tend to be somewhat permissive with their children because they reason that those children are incapable of responding to discipline.

In the same way, some of us parents can tend to let a label prevent us from expecting strength and resilience in our children who are gifted with being on the autism spectrum, with having a different thinking style (in the words of Tony Attwood).

The Tiger Mother is an extreme opposite of the "nurturing" Western style of parenting, but we cannot argue with the excellence, strength, and pride that their children exude.

But Don't Eat Your Children!

Nurture Your Relationship

Children need to know how much they mean to you.  This is where I do agree with the 'nurturing' style of many Westerners.  Help them understand their strengths, uniqueness, temperaments, talents.

Spend time connecting with your children.  I don't know if your life mirrors mine, but life can really be busy here in the United States!  If I'm not deliberate, I can become a human doing versus a human being!

So, be deliberate about spending 1:1 time with your child: playing, laughing, building that relationship.

Recognize Your Differences

Recognize that your children are not you!  This sounds simple enough, but it takes some humility to realize that they have their own thoughts, feelings, personalities, and views. 

If you do not have Aspergers or autism specturm conditions, make sure that you take the time to understand more about it.  Read this and many other blogs in the Psychology Today directory pertaining to this specific conditon.  Take time to learn 10 Facts Your Child With Autism Wants You To Know.

Also, be clear as to what is reasonable for your child to accomplish in life, and realize that her or his path may look a lot different than what you may envision.  Be open to the uniqueness that is your child.

In summary:

Be clear about what was good and what was lacking in your upbringing. 

Then, take time to reflect on how you want to raise your children. 

Read some blogs and books on parenting, and choose a style that you feel most good about.  Recognize the unique strengths and talents of your children. 

Don't be afraid to set expectations, but don't be afraid to show them love, either.

Stephen Borgman is a psychotherapist who frequently works with children in the autism spectrum.

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