It takes a village to raise a family—even more so when your child has special needs. But what happens when your village fails to truly support you?
My son was three he was diagnosed with autism. I had known he was somehow different since he was a baby. Now it was official.
Those early days were dark and painful. My husband and I felt overwhelmed by the discovery. We read up on autism, which previously wasn’t on our radar. We told our parents who, as it turned out, knew even less about autism than we did. I spent hours talking to therapists. I poured over books and articles, and tried to educate my own parents without bombarding or insulting them. It didn’t go down well. They wouldn’t hear a single bad word spoken of their Darling Grandson. It made sense. We live in different cities, five hours apart. They visited every month or two, yet couldn’t see what I saw every day: my son’s struggles with communication, socializing, and behaviour.
The Road to Acceptance
Sometimes, instead of just being a sounding board (what I needed most), my mother would jump in and play Mrs. Fix It. Or worse, she would flatly dismiss my experience (Darling Grandson never did that with her) or openly challenge the approach we were taking to support him. The road to acceptance and understanding was a long, bumpy one. What helped was stepping back and letting my parents experience my son on their own terms. It was eye opening, to say the least.
Gradually the denial shifted. The sugarcoating evaporated.
Once they got up close and personal with autism, they were able to empathize and acknowledge my efforts to help my little guy. In the meantime, I found a network of other parents to confide in who could relate to our journey. They weren’t so defensive, since they weren’t directly invested in my son. When I shared information about autism with friends and family, it was done in a spirit that was practical, not preachy. Eventually I started to adjust to my family’s new normal. It wasn’t easy. Like it or not, autism changes your world. Some of our people dropped by the wayside. Those who lasted the course asked questions. My parents started listening – really listening – without judging or rushing to the rescue. And that made all the difference.
My son is eight now, and enjoys a very special relationship with his grandparents. Every summer he visits them for a week or two. I don’t interfere with their time together. What happens on vacation stays on vacation. Nanny and Grampy have become his greatest cheerleaders.
For the first time in years, instead of locking horns, my parents and I reached across the divide, and held hands. It took a while, but we finally figured out that we’re much more useful to my son if we work as a team.
Julie M Green is a freelance writer and featured blogger at Huffington Post and Yummy Mummy Club. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including Today’s Parent, the Globe and Mail and Parents Canada. Over the years she has given interviews for CTV, CBC and BBC Radio, and HuffPost Live.
She lives in Toronto with her family—an Irish expat hubby, a crazy bulldog, and an amazing 8-year-old son with autism.