Grandma Could Fix Anything…Except Autism

Grandmother and family
Grandmother and family

Reflecting on Mother’s Day, it occurred to me that one of the most unfortunate parts of having a child with autism is being cut off from the gray-haired wisdom of previous generations. In the past, the beautiful process of having and raising a child used to draw a young woman even closer to her own mother. She could pick up the phone at any hour, and call mom, and have imparted to her wise words. Mom could provide comfort, reassurance, or advice.

Not now. Today’s children are not the same. The trusty wooden spoon that disciplined Italian kids from 1900 to 1990 doesn’t spank autism out of a child. Putting them in their bed with a kiss and a prayer doesn’t get a child with autism to sleep. Grandma’s menus, cleaning products, and best practices just don’t apply.

When my son turned one, we celebrated his birthday with a huge party. He recoiled from everyone, and clearly hated the event. This was met with glares and discomfort. For Mother’s Day, when he was two, he crawled under a car in the parking lot of a large restaurant in order to avoid going inside to meet the family for brunch. More glares and discomfort. The elders’ faces said it all. “What is wrong with him? Doesn’t he love us? What is wrong with YOU? He doesn’t even want to know us!”

The assumption was always that there was something wrong with my parenting. My child didn’t sleep. He was a picky eater. I couldn’t chit-chat on the phone anymore because, if I did, he would destroy something. I stopped answering the phone. More judgment. It was my fault.

Then, we found out: it was autism.

Instead of resolving the issue, the diagnosis made it more complicated. Who was to blame? Our side? His side? Whose defective genes was it? We all became victims and finger-pointing began. I still ignored the ringing phone.

I spoke to “Jennifer” who had a strained relationship with her mom after the diagnosis. Her mother exclaimed dramatically, “You’re upset? Imagine me! I am sick with worry about my daughter AND my grandson!” With the burden of caring for a special needs child and managing the emotions of family members, it is easy to become stoic, smile, and say, “everything is okay”, when really, it is not.

Partly as a result of difficult family dynamics, and isolation that follows, Facebook has a plethora of groups with mothers seeking each other for help and encouragement. Some post pictures of physical symptoms of concern. Other posts are filled with sadness and despair, and will read ‘I can’t talk about this to my family, they don’t understand. But, I know all of you will!” Having “friends” all over the world who are actually strangers that you can say anything to and they will understand is the “new normal”.

You are not alone. There are mothers who will listen when you need advice.

They just might not be your mother.