Rhi, a self-advocate, discusses being on the spectrum and how that relates to motherhood. She writes how motherhood, especially with children on the spectrum, has changed her for the better. This was originally posted on Rhi’s website.
NOTE: Rhi prefers to describe people with autism as “autistic people;” OAR prefers to describe people with ASD as “people/person with autism.”
Unlike unicorns and dragons and mermaids, autistic mothers are real. We don’t get a lot of media-representation, we don’t seem to fit the stereotypes, but we exist.
Motherhood and autism brings to my mind the scent of my children as they lay in my arms as babies. Just the two of us, alone in the dark. Like a warm blanket of safety and connection. There was no end to me, and no beginning to them. We were whole.
It makes me think of how that changed. How each of them grew and blossomed and unfurled their branches, in new and beautiful patterns. It reminds me of the first time each of them told me something I didn’t know. How powerful learning from your own child is.
It makes me think of those times when I put my sensory needs to one side. Those times were hard, but I would always choose my own discomfort over theirs. Motherhood will always mean compromise. It will always be exhausting at times.
My life’s patterns fit well with children. Routine and boundaries and being able to explain things clearly and explicitly. These things help children feel safe. They help me feel safe.
Motherhood and autism makes me think about what my youngest said to me last week, and how well he knows me. I was tired, and perhaps a little sullen. He came and took my hand and said, “Let’s go and find a beetle. You’ll like that. It’ll make you happy.”
And we did. And it did. The iridescent carapace, the jocular movement, the clumsy strutting, and the kindness of a young mind who looked at me and wondered what it could do to help.
Autism and motherhood means raising children that respect other people who have needs unlike your own. It requires true imagination to accept experiences you may never have. We respect sensory needs. We respect those who need small talk. We respect people.
As with any kind of motherhood there is heartache and guilt. There are late nights and pushed limits. There are bad days.
What there isn’t – not in me, or any of the autistic mothers I know – is a lack of love or connection.
I don’t bond easily with people, but my children didn’t appear in my life fully-formed. They didn’t arrive with pre-conceived ideas about social communication. They arrived with blank expressions and they changed slowly, with plenty of warning along the way.
Each of my children is a special interest. They challenge and inspire me, and make me happy. They teach me to be a better person, and they help me find my beetles in life.
When I see autism portrayed as disconnected or cold, then I know that it has been misunderstood. Autism is being connected to everything; not just people.
Some of us will choose to have children, some of us will not. It’s almost as though we are actual people, making actual choices in our actual lives, about what is actually right for us. Not right or wrong, just right for us.
Autistic mothers are researchers. They will read and study and problem-solve a path for their children.
Autistic mothers are routine-builders. They will create a predictable and safe world for their children.
Autistic mothers are believers. They know what it’s like to have their own experiences denied.
Autistic mothers can be none of the above, because just like any other group, they are individuals. They are just people and as fallible as the next person.
I have yet to meet an Autistic Refrigerator-Mother-Type. Not one. I’ve met plenty whose communication styles have been misunderstood by others, but no one who is actually anything but enormously caring and loving to their child. It’s not that I don’t believe that there might not be some, it’s just that it’s clearly not the norm.
My children free me. As my eldest daughter said to me once, “You are authentic.” She had forgotten the word for autistic, but it’s stuck as a family saying.
I am an autistic mother, and I am proud to be authentic. We could all do with a bit more authenticity in life. Cheers to you, authentic mothers, I raise a glass to my mythical lips in your mythical name. You are misunderstood and marvelous.
Rhi is a multi-media blogger: she uses her personal website (http://autistrhi.com/), Twitter (@outfoxgloved), and Facebook (AutistRhi). In addition to blogging, Rhi is a poet, playwright, and public speaker.