Today's post is written by Cheryl D., mom to a beautiful six year old with Asperger's syndrome. She has been blogging about their experiences since February of this year and recently won Scholastic's "Parent and Child" magazine's top blog award for special needs issues. You can find her personal blog at Little Bit Quirky.
My daughter has been totally amazing for about 2 weeks. She was as perfectly-behaved as any child can be. All that ended yesterday when she had the worst tantrum ever. It may not have been the longest one, but it was the most intense. This time, I think the trigger was hunger. She hardly touched her lunch at camp, so all she ate while there was a small bag of crackers.
During the tantrum, she did and said some hurtful things to me. She said that she didn't like me and that she wished she were with her daddy. While the rational me knows that all this is normal during this type of episode, it was still hurtful because it plays with my own inner demons. You know, those thoughts in your head that tell you what a horrible mother you are.
Back in the day, mothers were actually told that their child was autistic because of their poor mothering skills. They failed to provide enough love and interaction during their baby's development thus causing the autism. We know now that is entirely wrong. However, I've heard many a mother of an autistic child complain that when their child tantrums in public, they're met with either judgmental looks or comments. People have actually gone up to them and said things like, "Can't you handle your child?" or "Let me buy her the damn candy bar, if it means that crying would stop!" One friend told me that, while her daughter was having a meltdown in the grocery store, a woman came up and commented that her daughter was a "drama queen." "No," she replied, "my daughter has autism!"
The professionals who provide the autism services can also make comments that make you feel like a less than stellar mother. When I first had my daughter assessed by the school district because I felt that something wasn't right with her, the psychologist actually told me that I had the best girl in the world and that I needed parenting classes. It wasn't until she observed my daughter at her preschool that she called me with an apology and told me I was right about my daughter's autism. Other providers have told me that they wonder if an autistic child is truly autistic or the product of bad parenting. I know my parenting is always being looked at and dissected into pieces.
My daughter used to tantrum every day when I picked her up from preschool because she'd rather stay at school than go home with me. That hurt me on two levels. First, I had to deal with the looks from the other moms who I felt were judging my mothering ability (whether they actually were is probably irrelevant--it's how I felt). Second, I felt inadequate as a mom because my daughter didn't run and give me hugs like the other kids did with their mothers. Instead, she tantrummed as soon as she saw me because she didn't want to go home with me. This hurt my self-esteem. A lot.
This feeds into our own feelings that we caused our child's autism due to our bad parenting. While most of us know, on a rational level, that this isn't the case, I think ALL mothers of autistic children feel this way at some point in time--or at least wonder about it. These are the inner demons that I fight with when my daughter is having a tantrum. It's one that I think all mother's of autistic children deal with.
I wish I could tell those demons to go away. That I'm a loving, caring mother who is doing the best she can. After my daughter's tantrum ended and she ate some food, she told me how sorry she was and how much she loves me. I have to hold on to these moments, and the moments that she's perfectly behaved. It's hard, but I have to tell those inner demons to take a hike!