“My child has been diagnosed with [_____ ]. What does my child need? What is this diagnosis? As a parent, what should I do now?”

If this is an autism diagnosis, then you may have heard from someone or somewhere that “early intervention is key” and you may feel some anxiety to do or change something and fast.

“What do I need to do?”

I have been there and I get it.  I also have made a lot of mistakes both in therapy and parenting decisions due to this anxiety and assumption that doing something is better than doing nothing.  Human parents, like other animals, are genetically wired to support our children to ensure they are happy, healthy and have a good quality of life now and in the future.  This is a beautiful and powerful force but unfortunately, this instinct has long been commercialized in the mental health industry.  If you use social media, you may notice that you are receiving more ads around parenting products and programs.

This post is about empowering post-diagnose parents with the critical thinking they will need to survive and thrive in their life-long journey to understand and support their autistic children, who are perfectly fine.

Rule 1: Do not imply permanence upon the challenges your child experiences today.

Learn from Oedipus: how one’s actions to avoid a feared outcome can actually bring that outcome into reality, has been such an important human wisdom that the Ancient Greeks passed down in many of their stories.

Implied Permanence is a false logic and an anxiety vicious cycle stemming from the false assumption. The is a very common misconception about how behaviours, psychology, and personality work.

Assumption: the child will retain the undesirable behaviour or characteristics as an adult
Action: Through externally compelled behaviour activation (motivate the opposite desired behaviour) we can get rid of a unwanted behaviour or trait.
Consequence: Learned helplessness – Without removing the hidden difficulty, the child is underprepared and under-scaffolded to meet this expectation and inadvertently internalizes the parent’s negative assumption about them.

Externally compelled behavioural activation may elicit more internal experience or external behaviour of resistance which may manifest in long-term exaggeration of the unwanted behaviour.

Every child will do well if they can.

In parent consultation, I found that parents with a survivalist mindset tend to grasp this anxiety the most. If I prob a little deeper, these parents, as a child, tend to receive less nurturing love from the same gendered parent and experience more punishment or trauma for being vulnerable. For example, if they were tired while on a hike, their father would tell them to toughen up or they simply had to fend for themselves a lot.  Regardless of the type of past experience, some parents believe vulnerability is a dangerous thing and they have very low trust in the interdependence amongst humans.

Rule #2: Do not reject the vulnerability

Parents with vulnerable children tend to gravitate towards each other for friendship because only these parents would understand what it means to:

Protecting and supporting your child who has a vulnerability that is beyond your control.

And that we will never be able to get rid of this vulnerability, no matter how hard we try.  Living with and showing our children how to live with this vulnerability with self-love and compassion is an unfair and scary responsibility and experience.

I know this would sound very doom and gloom for new-diagnose parents, but if you come back to read this in a few years, you will understand that this vulnerability is the best thing that has ever happened to you.  Embracing and thriving with this vulnerability would have moulded you into a person that you are very proud of and love. This vulnerability is actually a very good thing.

The biggest damage we see in neurodivergent parenting is the parents’ attempt to negate this vulnerability by forcing their children to push through it or toughen up their children against this vulnerability.

Rule 3: Your child is not you or your product.

This is the human wisdom we often observe from the elderly who have seen their children become parents and then become grandparents. Our elderlies know that the hubris of parenting is foolish and misguided. We parents actually have limited influence on the outcome of our children.  Our world also changes so drastically and rapidly that our worldview and our perspectives cannot be applied to the next generation.  These elderly folks will likely tell us to “just enjoy our children” and how precious and fleeting is this opportunity to be a parent.

Your child is not you. We call this projection, a psychological defence mechanism where individuals attribute their own thoughts, feelings, or qualities to someone else. This often involves attributing negative or undesirable aspects of oneself to others. So what does we really think about the version of themselves “pre-parented”? When we act on our projection, we pass down our trauma and legacy of self-hate to our children as a form of intergenerational trauma. Even if you have succeeded in “parenting” your kid through it, you may have won the battle but lost the war.

Rule 4: Oxygen Masks on Parents First

Of course, all the above is easier said than done, because

Every parent will do well if they can.

While trying this out, any parents will experience intense emotions or difficulty in holding back urges.  Some parents may simply think these rules are absurd. Or there are other aspects of the family environment or experience that make everything feel overwhelming or impossible. Burnout is also a huge problem for vulnerable families, but this is not a lecture on self-care.  Bubble baths and massages are going to be a drop in the bucket.

Human thrives today because of our ability to specialize and become interdependent on each other.  To be a parent, you need a village or paid help. This can be a house cleaner, meal delivery service, respite, or personal counselling. None of us were taught to parent autistic children, so some up-skilling may be required. The priority for the to-do list should be resources that can make parents’ lives easier so they can parent.

If you ask any counsellor, they would tell you that all of our clients really just want a parent who is present physically and emotionally. Rule 4 is how we make this possible.

 

Rule 5: Unconditional Positive Regard

A long time ago, I had two clients whom I saw one after another.  At pick-up, the first parent greeted me first and then I could see the “love goggles” when he turned to look at his son.  His facial expression warmed as his gaze brushed his son appreciating every little feature.  He bent down to help his child put on the shoes and I think he wanted to kiss his foot but decided that it wasn’t socially appropriate.  He held it in his hands briefly before putting the shoes on.

For the next client, the parent greeted me and asked “Did he tell you the problem?”.  While verbally prompting his child to put on his shoes, he said “Stop moving around and tie your shoes. Stop talking. Tie your shoes first. Focus.” In front of his child, he sighed and said to me “his mom still ties his shoes for him.  I know he struggles with fine motor control but he is 13.”

Both children are 13.

What you see when you look at your child will influence how you engage with them.

What do you see when you see your child?

Which parents do our children want us to be?

Which parents do you want to be? 

Parents do well if they can.

Cherish Clinic is here to support you to become the parents you want to be.