You’re an autism parent. This isn’t a label you thought you’d have, yet here you are celebrating autism acceptance month. Many parents go through the stages of grief when they find out that their child is on the autism spectrum. It is normal and understandable as they are grieving the loss of a neurotypical identity and the future they expected for their child. The last stage of the grief process is acceptance. And that is really the topic of today – autism acceptance.
As an Autism Parent, You Want Your Child to be Accepted
I am in awe of the depth of love a parent can have for their child. You love your child and you would do anything. Perhaps, you’ve watched your child get rejected over and over again by others. This is a painful experience for your child and for you. In fact, many parents feel the pain of that rejection as if it happened to them directly.
When your child is first diagnosed you likely experienced significant fears over your neurodivergent child’s ability to fit in and thrive. You wondered if they would have friends, get made fun of, get involved in social clubs, sports, and more. Ultimately, you hope they will be accepted by others.
Your concern over their acceptance may make you feel very anxious. Perhaps, it even keeps you up at night. You may have spent hours researching possible interventions and therapies. Maybe, you’ve read blogs or joined groups for autism parents on social media. You’ve likely altered your parenting style and the way you interact with your child. You just want them to be successful.
Have you ever encouraged your autistic child to “fit in?”
Deep down, you just want to protect your child from pain and heartbreak. This may have caused you to try and correct some of their autistic traits by encouraging them to mimic their neurotypical (non-autistic) peers. You may tend to support their efforts to “mask” their autism in hopes your child will be accepted by others. For example, some parents encourage their child to make eye contact and smile at others when they greet someone new. They might punish or criticize their child when they don’t camouflage their autistic behavior. Unfortunately, masking causes autistic children intense distress and strain. Over time, it can lead to autistic meltdowns and autistic burnout.
Trying to fit into a neurotypical world is so hard for a neurodiverse child
Imagine how you would feel if everyone around you was given a rule book to guide social behavior, but you weren’t? This is how many neurodiverse individuals feel. Even brief interactions that seem “low stress” to neurotypicals can be very overwhelming. They have to constantly think about social rules and social norms. It’s a very arduous task to have to complete day after day. Many individuals with autism put lots of effort into fitting in and acting neurotypical. So much so that almost every social interaction feels very exhausting and draining. How would you feel in that situation?
Furthermore, they have to deal with social interactions that do not go well. Sometimes, despite an autistic individual’s best intentions, others misunderstand them and interpret their behavior as rude, annoying, or even hostile. Then, the neurodivergent individual is left feeling disappointed and hurt. Over time, this can lead to a hopeless attitude. They may feel like no matter what they try things won’t go well, so why bother?
Then, on top of everything else, imagine how hurtful it would be to go home to parents who tell you to be “normal” or encourage masking behaviors. That would feel very invalidating and hurtful. Over time, feeling like your parents and support system aren’t on your side may make your child feel like there’s something inherently wrong with them.
Encouraging your child to mask so they fit in, does not accept and validate who they are as a neurodivergent individual
I absolutely know you have the best intentions and your actions are driven by the love you have for your child. Reacting this way is super common amongst autism parents, especially because many caregivers receive parent coaching that encourages autistic masking. You are doing the best you can to set your child up for success. But, because your child is neurodivergent they need guidance that is tailored to fit their needs and centered around acceptance not masking.
How You Can Encourage Autism Acceptance
You may be wondering what you can do to help your child find acceptance without masking. To be honest, it’s hard. Especially with individuals who have an Asperger’s or doubly-gifted profile. But, one powerful skill you can help your child develop is knowing how to give a mini-disclosure.
As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, a mini-disclosure is a short explanation or qualification of your behavior. When I teach my clients how to give a mini-disclosure, I do so in three parts:
- Identify the behavior in question
- I don’t always make eye contact with people
- Clairfy why you engage in that behavior
- It is uncomfortable for me
- Request support
- I like you as a person, so I wanted you to know this about me so you don’t get confused or ever wonder why I’m not making eye contact. If you ever feel uncertain about how I’m feeling, you can always ask me.
Note, your child does not have to disclose their autism to give a mini-disclosure. Saying this can take a few seconds, but could have a positive life-long impact on their relationships. Helping your child practice their mini-disclosures can help them feel more comfortable disclosing when the situation calls for it.
After a mini-disclosure, people are less likely to make inaccurate assumptions about your child and will likely feel more at ease with them. This can lead to fewer miscommunications and better relationships for your child. And, isn’t that your real goal. For your child to find a sense of belonging, connection, and acceptance!
What You Can Do If You Need Additional Support as an Autism Parent
If you’re looking for more support on how to parent a neurodiverse child, Open Doors Therapy has several options for you if you live in the state of California. We offer parent consulting and coaching opportunities, an online parent support group, and autism family therapy. Our therapists are experts in the field of neurodiversity. They understand the issues you’re experiencing and they can help you make some simple tweaks in your parenting style to best support your autistic child. We know you just want the best for your child, autism therapy can help set you both up for success.
Begin Autism Therapy in California
If you are a California resident and looking for autism therapy services, our team of autism therapists would love to talk with you and share the ways we can help you and your child thrive. We strive to create a warm and accepting atmosphere for our neurodiverse clients and families to address the issues that matter most to them. Follow these steps to begin online autism therapy in California:
- Contact us for a free phone consultation using this link. You will meet with our client care coordinator.
- Like us on Facebook. On our page, we post useful information about our practice
- Sign up to receive our newsletter.
Other Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed ASD traits, and their families.
Right now, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapists offer a variety of counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact our therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.