How to Be a Courageous Parent And Nurture Your Autistic Child
21 year old Prasad completed a 10 km marathon run this past week. His dad, Ranganathan was thrilled!
“The best part was he completed the run because he was enjoying it. He didn’t do it because I wanted him to do it.” said Ranganathan.
Viji’s son Vishal is a master chef. This 21-year-old toils over his creations with care, resting only when he manages to cook the perfect curry. Viji’s father was a restaurant owner.
“I can see Vishal following his footsteps.” says Viji. “It will be my dream come true.”
Mohit, my son, is a 28 year old artist. Till 10 years ago, I didn’t even know he could paint. His artwork evokes a deep response from those who see it.
All three young men are autistic. Autism is a heavy and uncomfortable diagnosis. It’s accompanied by fear and limitations. The prognosis is filled with ‘won’t’ and ‘can’t,’— devastating parents and placing limitations on children.
Viji says, “I was shattered not knowing what autism is, how to move ahead, what to do. I imagined a child who would be rocking and flapping. I had absolutely no clue of how things would move ahead or what my Vishal would achieve. I had a gut feeling that he would do better, though I didn’t know the right way.”
Ranganathan says, “heart of hearts both of us were disturbed and depressed but kept lying to each other that things would work out well eventually. When your son doesn’t get to see KG in his fourth year, the world comes down.”
I myself was shocked with Mohit’s diagnosis. I stormed out of the doctor’s office saying, ‘it’s impossible- my beautiful son cannot have autism.” After that I was in unbearable agony and grief for many months.
Acceptance came after many years of being tossed and spun around in the washing machine of life.
Over time, each of us let go of our expectations of who our children should be and embraced them for who they were. Understanding and support stemmed from this acceptance. And look at how these adults turned out.
The above are stories of 3 young adults I know closely. Every child/adult on the autism spectrum is different. Some go to regular school and pursue further education and careers.
Others may not follow the regular route. They become artists, musicians, chefs, marathoners- just like the youngsters above. Yet others may get into supported employment and vocational settings.
We talk about acceptance. But acceptance comes after ‘letting go’. It’s about letting go of preconceived notions of who your child should be.
Your child is here to manifest his own potential. The sooner you let go of the limitations you place on him — the better it is for all concerned.
Your child may not speak the conventional way, but he may type, write or use a device. Your child may not complete his graduation, but he has some beautiful abilities you could have closed your eyes to. It’s about facing your fears.
Many years ago, a well meaning relative told me, “Mohit has to grow up to look after his dad’s business.” Can you imagine how much heart break and pressure if I pushed him into academics?
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard. But work in the direction of your child’s aptitude. If I had pushed for a business man to emerge, what would have happened to the artist?
The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron talks about ‘the squeeze’ and likens it to place of groundlessness. It’s scary to be suspended and not know what’s going to happen. Once you face your fears, you will not be afraid of being suspended. I’m certainly not claiming to be fearless. It’s still a work in progress. But yes, life with your autistic child will teach you to accept uncertainty and force you to be courageous. On our 70th year of Independence, the words of Rabindra Nath Tagore ring in my ears.
My prayer is every parent accepts their child for who he or she is.
Find their aptitude and support them, dear parent.
Rise above the heavy shackles of the connotation of autism.
Inherent in your child is beauty, dignity and ability.
Find it…Nurture it.
May each of our minds be without fear. And may our heads always be held high.