Lynn Hudoba: Attack of the Killer Should-Be’s

A special needs parent obsessively tracks the ages and stages of typically developing children.

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.

Lynn Hudoba November 02, 2011 at 04:45 PM
You said this sooooo well...may I just say...what she said!
Lynn Hudoba November 02, 2011 at 04:46 PM
You just may be right Megan...thanks for commenting!
Lynn Hudoba November 02, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Wow...you've got a little of everything going on Loretta! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Ericka Labedz November 02, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Lynn, I love your column and your blog. I have twins, one NT and one on the Spectrum. They are in first grade and at the cusp of this age of social conformity you describe. I'm not so anxious about how this plays out. But what makes me especially anxious is the ever-widening gulf between my two kids in terms of their educational and social opportunities as they get older. My daughter wants to join everything, try anything and take it all in. My son is seemingly only interested in his videos and stuffed turtle. Expanding on his interests is an extraordinary challenge every day. It can be done, but it's exhausting to be sure. I'm really glad I have your stuff to read to help keep a better perspective and laugh a little on this road.
Heidi Duckworth Hard November 02, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Please do a column! I've got two special needs also and one teenage "normie." And man, is it tough going from one world to the other. And maybe I'm alone, but man, I beat myself up enough about the special needs kids, I don't need any help from other parents criticizing how I handle them *ugh* My 7 yr old ADHD with auditory processing and speech issues isn't reading and is in 1st grade (help back, did K twice)-he looks normal, but ISN'T, and so people don't understand when he's acting crazy. ~sigh~ Mommy's going crazy here! Need to hear from others :)
Susan Carroll November 02, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Maybe "doing the best we can" should include trying to understand the frustrations and battles of those who don't have it as easy as us instead of getting angry that someone had the audacity to put her feelings into words that make us feel slightly uncomfortable. I say this as a "normie."
Lynn Hudoba November 02, 2011 at 05:19 PM
That is fascinating that you have one of each of the exact same age...talk about making it impossible not to compare them. Your son sounds so much like my daughter...he is so fortunate to have his sister...she sounds like an awesome model for him!
Lynn Hudoba November 02, 2011 at 05:22 PM
I hear you on the beating yourself up....that's why we need each other and need to stick together. It's hard for others to truly understand the challenges that we face every day. So glad that you found your way here Heidi!
Dana Meijler-Gross November 02, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Bob, I think you are taking the article too seriously. The point isn't that parents of typical children don't or shouldn't worry about their kids but that we would very much prefer to be dealing with these kinds of problems than trying to get our kids to talk or not be afraid of the vaccuum cleaner. We're jealous!
Matt Kaufman November 02, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Lemme tell you something Bob. If my autistic son could ever pick up ANYTHING from me, I'd be proud. Obviously, the writer is aiming for a kind of savage humor, to deal with stresses you clearly have no concept of. If you want to talk about a sneering attitude, how about the ones that Special Needs parents see every day when we just try to take our kids out in society?
Monica Wier November 02, 2011 at 07:36 PM
I have a special boy, aged 12. He is socially fine, but is learning disabled and has ADD (unmedicated), so he has an IEP (individual education plan). We constantly battle with our family (his grandparents) about his needs. Our friends, neighbors, and teachers all get it, but the old-school grandparents don't. I want to strangle them. My boy is awesome, regardless. One thing that has really helped him is that we have always provided him with what would help him, regardless of what the "experts" in books say to get. He LOVES comic books. He likes to read about buggers, farts, and bugs, so we buy books about those things. As a result, he reads at almost grade level. Take that, experts! Get your kids what they want to read and, guess what, they will read it! Keep them motivated. His school does not give him much homework because it derails his motivation. They understand the need for him to be excited about school, not bogged down with hours and hours of work. We are super lucky that we just happened to move into a neighborhood where we have awesome schools for him. He loves junior high and is doing well. He may never be able to balance a checkbook, but he is happy and has lots of friends.
jeani November 02, 2011 at 08:06 PM
We get that all parents have challenges as they raise their children. It's just hard for parents of kids with special and extreme needs not to look at normie parents and think, "Seriously, that's a problem?? Get over it". It's like having a terminal illness and having to listen to someone whine about their stuffy nose. Humor is an age old way of coping and like it or not, sometimes you're the butt of the joke. So Bob, put on your big-girl panties and stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Karen Phillips November 02, 2011 at 09:16 PM
Loved your blog post. When I had the honor to teach more than a few years ago my favorite students were some of those that thought outside the box. The lessons learned from my special needs students were some never forgotten. Thank you for your post.
jillsmo November 02, 2011 at 10:46 PM
Wait.... how did Bob know that we use the word "Normies"? He wasn't at our autie mom meeting; Normie parents aren't ALLOWED at those!!!
jillsmo November 02, 2011 at 10:48 PM
I love you, Lynn. Will you autograph my blog?
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 12:28 AM
It's great to hear success stories Monica! I like you advice about tapping into their likes...I tried to read hear some of that Magic Treehouse series that is so popular but she was completely uninterested and is way too literal to get the fantasy aspect of it. She goes for anything involving cupcakes, cookies, or birthday parties.
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 12:29 AM
Humor is my number one coping mechanism...way better than drugs as far as I'm concerned. Thanks for commenting Jeani!
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Thanks Karen...our kids ARE awesome!
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 12:30 AM
I'm going to go make out with your blog presently.
Victoria November 03, 2011 at 02:39 AM
Lynn, I loved this post and think you are right on ... and I have a 7 yr old "typical" son. And I'm using the quotes because he seems to be about as atypically typical as a 'normal' child can be. Having worked with special needs kids when I was in public and high school I have always had a healthy respect for their parents and the amazing strengths they are always required to call on. Now that my child is in a school where special needs kids are 'mainstreamed', 'integrated', 'IEP'd' or learning in ME classes (or any combination thereof) and I myself am in the school two to three times a week (in-class volunteering, pizza lunches, class trips, etc.) my respect for these parents, for their kids and their abilities and quirks continues to grow. And I wholeheartedly agree with your reply to Karen above ... your kids ARE awesome!
Johnny Montes November 03, 2011 at 07:14 AM
I was referred here thru a friend. We thought my son might be autistic at first, but I guess he's simply socially awkward and admittedly, a bit sheltered. I'm happy to report that he's improved considerably over the last month or so. Lynn, loved your write-up! Thanks for the humor, it made me smile! ^_^
Jen November 03, 2011 at 02:23 PM
The best is when someone complains their kid talks too much at like 2. Really? My kid had like 5 words at 2. Stfu. Half the time I think complaints are really brags in disguises. Parents of NT kids feel the need to brag over anything. Oh, what, your kid wants to just sit and do multiplication tables for fun? Again, stfu.
Jen November 03, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Sorry for the typos. I've only been w/out power and running water for 5 days, and I have strep..fun times over here.
Jim W November 03, 2011 at 02:31 PM
I want to flag your dialog with jillsmo as inappropriate, but I don't want to get kicked out of the commenting club, so I'm not going to.
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Thanks Victoria...it really is a special community in every sense of the word.
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 03:31 PM
That's good news Johnny...thanks for reading!
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Ugh. You have been so slammed. I hope you have power by now. Yeah, we should do a compilation of the brags-disguised-as-concerns...
Lynn Hudoba November 03, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Too late.
Lana Rush November 03, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Love this! I try not to be overly sensitive, but it does bother me when I see some sweet child talking 90 miles a minute and the mom is making an occasional "uhm" sound and texting. I would LOVE to hear my child talking 90 miles a minute - and I won't be texting if/when it happens! BTW - just finished the Wit & Wisdom book you contributed to/edited. Great read! :)
Lynn Hudoba November 04, 2011 at 03:22 PM
We definitely don't take anything for granted with our kids. Thanks for getting our book...glad that you liked it!


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