I’ve found that being Autistic has greatly influenced my parenting style and I’d like to delve a bit more into that topic.
Many Autistic adults are parents. In fact, most of the Autistic adults I know, especially in person, are mothers. Interestingly enough, those whom I know have tended to gravitate towards gentle parenting styles and that’s also usually why and how I met them. Many of us parented our children in similar ways and met after we joined online support groups for natural, gentle, child-led, etc ways of raising children.
Most of us, however, were not raised this way, and I’ll use my childhood as a brief example:
My parents were fairly mainstream parents for the 1980s.
CW for the next two paragraphs: Brief mention of letting babies “cry it out” and physical punishment for children.
I was a very screamy baby, especially at night, and was carried around a great deal, read to, and left to “cry it out” (no idea what “it” is) to a point, but we lived in an apartment at the time so my parents did have to be mindful of the neighbors and what they could hear.
Then, being conservative Christians during a time when there was no support for any other methods, nor any internet, my parents embarked upon a Dobson-approved course of discipline/punishment for toddler me. This was horrible. I never understood what was happening, despite the fact that they were very careful to explain what was happening each time. I just knew that my parents were hurting me repeatedly. The pain drove all their words out of my mind and I’d get hit again for not remembering or not being able to repeat back what they’d just told me.
I had a horrible experience with being punitively parented. I was only 3 years old the first time I remember explicitly thinking that I would never subject my children to physical punishments. Of course, I don’t really have that many memories before that age anyhow so that resolution might predate my conscious memories altogether.
So, when I was pregnant for the first time, I set out to research my new focused interest with great gusto. Pregnancy, childbirth, newborns, and childrearing!
I was working full-time at that point and when I wasn’t at work, I was online or immersed in books, researching all the things. My husband felt pretty left out of the whole process, but at the time I didn’t realize that. I just knew that I had to research. Everything. Every chance I got.
The style of parenting that first resonated with me was attachment parenting (AP). I didn’t follow it rigorously, but AP things were mainly what worked best for all of us when I had babies and toddlers. I trusted that my babies knew what and when they wanted to eat. I nursed on demand then transitioned to solids by following their lead and what they were ready to do.
Co-sleeping is probably the only way I managed to get any sleep during that time. Not having to even get out of bed to breastfeed and not having to make bottles was a huge energy-saver for me. Babies are also very snuggly ❤ Side perks!
As my children got older, I began looking into schooling options. I was fairly certain we would homeschool since I’d had such a lovely experienced being homeschooled myself. I found myself fascinated by the theories of Charlotte Mason, who was largely anti-textbook and pro-reading real books by people who were passionate about the topic in question.
Learning from people who are passionate about their interests? Yes, that resonated too!
A friend gave me a stack of old Growing Without Schooling magazines, and I eagerly devoured the information contained within them. I’d summarize the magazine’s contents as “trust children to learn what they need to learn when they’re ready to learn it” – also known as unschooling.
This philosophy flowed perfectly from what I’d loved most about the baby-led and attachment parenting methods I’d successfully been using.
The unschooling mindset involves trusting children to know what they need and what’s best for them while being present as a lifeguard, guide, and facilitator since children also tend to have significantly less information, experience, and impulse control than adults do.
Great! But I was still coming out of a punitively parented childhood of my own and, while I knew I didn’t want to hit my children, I also didn’t want my children to grow up just doing whatever they wanted and ignoring the needs of people around them.
So, I also began to look into parenting methods. I discovered a wealth of information surrounding gentle discipline and quickly realized that most people think of permissive parenting when they hear the phrase “gentle discipline.” Yet, they’re not the same at all.
Permissive parenting, in my experience, tends to yield children who think they’re the most important person in the world and that they can do what they want, regardless of the effect on others.
One can gently guide and help a child see the importance of caring for others and respecting the needs of other people. This requires more than simply not spanking, though, it requires building up a range of other parenting tools and strategies for helping children better understand themselves, others, and the world around them. It also requires a great deal of time, effort, and learning on the part of the parent.
I’d discovered a new subject to research exhaustively! And I did.
So, my parenting style has been largely informed by Attachment Parenting, Gentle Discipline, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, and having the utmost respect for my children as people. As their own people, not an extension of myself.
I find it fascinating that there are so many Autistic parents who follow child-led, respectful methods of parenting and tend to trust our children.
Perhaps it’s partially because we were not trusted as children, ourselves.
I firmly believe that the mainstream, authoritarian parenting model fails Autistic children. That model and those expectations lead to abuse for us.
As a child, I never understood why I was in trouble or what I needed to do instead. My childhood was ridiculously confusing and, despite my parents’ best intentions, was abusive.
Therefore, I did the research and chose a completely different path for my parenting.
My children, both Autistic and allistic, are all growing up knowing that they matter and also that other people matter. They are respected and they show that same respect in return.
As @liveotherwise said on twitter today: “What happens if you give [an] autistic person time and space to develop instead of squashing [them] into [the] system?”
Many of us are discovering the answer to that question in our own homes with our own children.
The results I’ve seen so far have been magnificent! ❤