Dear parents of typical kids,
I could have been labeled a helicopter parent for my oldest son, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 3 years old. When he started middle school 8 years ago, I tried to arrange for neighborhood kids to walk or bike to and from school together. I knew that other parents were not making plans for their kids. But my son was completely unaware of others’ plans and he wanted to be included and he didn’t feel comfortable calling to make arrangements on his own.
By Brenda Dater
My son, Noah, leaves for college in 2 days. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when he was 3 years old. When he started high school, my mantra about college was, "There's no one way to do life after high school." I didn't want him to feel like he had to follow the path of everyone around him.
I wanted him to know that he could adapt to new environments, academic requirements, social expectations and living independently at a pace that worked well for him. I didn't want to hold him back and tell him he couldn't step out of his comfort zone and I also didn't want to pretend this transition would be smooth and easy because he'd done well in high school.
It's the middle of the night. I can't sleep--not because I'm not tired--but because I've got a list of "to-dos" running through my mind. I'm thinking about planning the next year's workshops and support groups at AANE. I'm sorting out the details for upcoming Parenting without Panic book events. I'm thinking about the follow up my 18-year-old son with Asperger's needs to do before he heads to college. And I'm wondering how to sort through the mountains of paper I've accumulated in our home over the past year. I know that none of these tasks are critical. If they don't happen, it will be inconvenient and frustrating, but not tragic. And yet, it's still keeping me awake when I'd rather be snoozing next to my husband.
Even though my rational brain knows that there's only so much thinking and doing I can accomplish on any given day, I still expect that I'll have the time and energy to do more. And yet, the harder I try and push, the more depleted and overwhelmed I feel. And I don't think I'm alone. Many parents feel like they should be able to do more, accomplish more, help their kids more--especially when they have kids on the autism spectrum. But what happens when we are too hard on ourselves, focus too much on what we should do and not enough on what is possible in this moment? We can start to feel like Lucy in the candy factory…and we know how well that turned out.
Brenda Dater is the author of Parenting without Panic: A Pocket Support Group for Parents of Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum (Asperger's Syndrome). Brenda is also the Director of Child and Teen Services at AANE.