I like to torment myself sometimes by reading parenting advice columns. As the parent of a special needs child, I like to see how the other half lives and make sure that my “Nice Problems to Have” file is never depleted.
Whereas parents of typically developing children might worry about their kids being overly influenced by friends, parents of kids with autism would be happy if there were friends. Siblings that are constantly fighting? Be happy that they acknowledge each other’s existence.
I’m thinking of introducing an advice column where questions like these are fielded by a panel of special needs parents. Here’s how it could work, using actual questions that I’ve recently read:
My 4-year-old is terrified of water. How can I coax him into the pool?
My 7-year-old is terrified when I make left turns in the car. You feel better now, don’t you?
When my child is home sick, is there any way to amuse or comfort him that doesn't involve hours in front of a television?
I recommend hours in front of the television. Wait. What?
Should I let my daughter send digital rather than hand-written thank-you notes?
I’m going to punch you in the throat as hard as I can so that you have something else to think about for five minutes. You’re welcome.
I think my answers are far more helpful than the ones that are provided, which have included such pearls as “whispering in the ear of a sleeping child has been proven to cure all quirks.” Really. It actually said that. In print. *Snort* Normal people are so weird.
But I don’t just read these advice columns to make fun of them. They actually can be a good way for me to keep up with what typical children are doing at various ages and stages. One of the very first books that I read after my daughter was diagnosed with autism advised parents to stay on top of what typical kids of the same age were into. Especially once they get to the age where bullying starts, doing so can reduce the degree to which they stand out for all the wrong reasons.
Not that my daughter will ever not stand out in a crowd, but things like fashions and trends are relatively easy for me to keep up on, and something that I’m more than willing to do on her behalf if it lessens the chance of her being teased.
A good example was a recent column about the appropriateness of a first-grader still reading picture books rather than chapter books. The advice that followed can be boiled down to: Picture books good. The experts said that any exposure to books and reading is positive, and that picture books can actually do a better job than chapter books of tackling more complex, philosophical issues.
Problem solved! Except for whoever thought it was weird for a first-grader to be looking at picture books anyway. The better question is, at what point does it become inappropriate to still be reading picture books? Now that’s news I can use.
If it were up to my daughter, I have a feeling that she would be more than happy to flip through her Corduroy and alphabet books forever. She’s been able to read since before she could talk, but she’s also very visually-oriented and still loves looking at the colorful pictures. Is there an age after which she will be stuffed into a locker if she’s seen wandering the halls with a Pinkalicious book?
I’m not so old that I can’t remember the days when everything down to your sock length had to be exactly the same as everyone else lest you suffer the humiliating consequences. Hopefully with some due diligence on my part, I can guide my daughter through that phase with her self-esteem (relatively) intact.
I’m happy to try to help her fit in during the school day, but also more than happy to let her be herself when she is home. If that means sequestering herself in her room watching Baby Einstein videos until high school graduation, so be it. She'll deserve it after a long day of hanging with the normies.
Eventually the hyper-conformity phase will pass, and we will come out the other side to when it becomes even cooler to let your freak flag fly. I look forward to that day. Because we’ve got one beautiful, giant, quirky flag to unfurl. And a whole bunch of friends to fly theirs alongside us.