She placed her hand on her 7 year old’s shoulder to help him write.
He tried his best.
Concern was writ large on her face, as she said, “Write neatly- within the lines.”
‘Leave space between each word. Write nicely.” She continued.
She bent over, watching him work intently, not willing to let go.
I felt her anxiety as if it were my own.
We mothers of children (or adults) on the spectrum, carry heavy loads of anxiety on our shoulders.
I pondered on the anxious feeling. Why does it happen? Where does it come from?
1. Personal pressures
When the autism diagnosis is pronounced, it comes heavily laden with an undercurrent of ‘not knowing’ and ‘not understanding.’
Parents carry the heavy burden of proving that their children know and understand concepts.
That’s too heavy a load to carry for any human being.
Why are you putting pressure on yourself?
You don’t have to prove anything to anybody about your child.
She is beautiful.
Convince yourself to believe in her. The rest of the world will follow.
2. School pressures
Every child can learn. When we as teachers, as an education system don’t delve deeper into how a child learns, we’re doing children a great disservice.
At a young age, immense pressure is applied on kids to read and write.
A child with autism could have many difficulties. He may learn differently.
He may have gross and fine motor difficulties and other sensory difficulties.
Why not find an alternative way to teach an autistic child?
3. Societal pressures
Society expects children to behave in a certain way.
Any thing out of the ordinary elicits stares from bystanders.
If a child flaps or screams, every body turns to look.
Unsolicited advice pours in from all quarters.
Tremendous pressure is applied to make the child, like every other child.
Every difference is perceived as a failure.
Every family with a special needs child feels this pressure.
4. Family pressures
I once worked with a student, whose grand parents were from a ‘royal’ family in India.
The pressure on the parents for their child to behave in a certain way was immense.
They could not continue with our program for too long, as their focus became behavioral.
Often they would say, “Make my child well behaved. He should make any sounds in public. He should not flap his hands. He should look like any other child.”
His behavior made his parents anxious. The anxiety rubbed off on him.
It was a vicious cycle we did not get out of.
The sad part is, if parents had worked on their anxiety, the child could have done well.
5. Financial pressures
Bringing up a child with special needs works out to be expensive.
The other question that haunts parents is, ‘what after me?’
And little by little the burden increases.
The sad truth is that all these pressures add to parental anxiety.
Individuals on the spectrum are hugely sensitive. They absorb this anxiety.
My message to you, through this article is to become aware of your own anxiety.
There is no point in running from it.
If present, it needs to be dealt with- head on.
Don’t be a by stander in your own life.
1. Sign up for a family centred program
Most programs focus on the child, but not on the parents or siblings.
Autism affects the entire family.
Work on making yourself better.
‘Me time’ is essential.
So is time with your spouse and other children.
I’ve written extensively about this here.
Track your day. Make time for the important things in your life.
2. Find support in like minded people
In 2013, we started parent group sessions.
Today, each of the group members is an empowered mother (or father) who knows how to deal with their own child.
Since we meet every week, parents have started supporting one another wholeheartedly.
It’s a joy to see a parent offering thoughtful ideas to another parent.