Sunday, July 22, 2007

Special Parenting?

A while back, Along the Spectrum said, parenting is not that different. I loved that post (as I do most of the posts on that blog). It struck a true cord. What parents of exceptional children do is just plain old parenting, even if there is a bit more of it – or a lot more of it as the case may be. The other day, Joey's Mom said that people should be out there telling parents not to be afraid of having kids with special needs. Good point. After all, we get into the whole reproduction thing, not because we want the end product (adults), but because we want to enjoy the process of being a parent. So, given that you want to parent, which is to say that you either like parenting or you think that you are going to like parenting, it doesn't make any sense at all to be afraid of the dice roll bringing you more parenting.

That said, in the opinion of one dad, over at One Dad's Opinion, parents of an autistic child have to make determinations every day as to, "At what point does our responsibility as a parent become overshadowed by our child's ability to behave a certain way?" This introduces what is for me a difficult question, when do we make allowances, accommodate needs that we might like to see our children go beyond, or even actively embrace and encourage behaviors that we might try to limit in other children? To get a better idea of what I am talking about, you should read Steve's whole post, and then come back here.

When trying to sort out what I think about all of this, my thoughts are also influenced by people such as Mom26children at What are they thinking? who said, recently,

Just because you have an Autistic child does not give them free reign to disturb others in a public situation. If that was the case, we could allow any person to disrupt any situation.
If you want your Autistic children to be taken seriously, you must take your Autistic child seriously.

How can we prepare our Autistic children for their future and being accepted by society if we allow them, as children, to act inappropriately in public?

Just because your child was given the diagnosis of Autism does not mean you have to stop parenting your child....

Another parent of an autistic kid who blogs in a similar vein is BeAGoodDad, over at Be A Good Dad, who says, "Raise your child like he is your child whether he has a special need or not."

This brings up another kind of question. You see, whether we should accept and accommodate differences in our children or attempt to bring our children in line with our own preconceived expectations is intimately tied up in what we see as the role of the parent, regardless of whether the child has special needs.

Specifically, some parents see it as their incontrovertible responsibility to impart to their children the morals, standards of behavior, habits, attitudes, knowledge and wisdom that they themselves were given or acquired. These parents generally believe that you must use every resource at your disposal to make sure your kids are good, well educated kids for as long as they are kids. Once they are adults, they will be free to do as they like. Commonly, they also believe that what they teach their kids as kids, will allow them to be truly free and independent when they are adults.

But this is not the only way of looking at parenting. There is also the view that all children are born free, competent, moral, and already equipped to gain mastery of all the skills they need to be fulfilled as humans. This kind of parent is more like to see the parent child relationship as a friendship or partnership in which the parent's role to keep the child safe and to facilitate access to the things that naturally interest the child. They may argue that most of the evil we see in people comes as a result of unnatural attempts at molding and manipulating children into useful cogs in society's machine and that, if allowed to develop naturally, they will become all that they can be and then some.

Of course, no one adheres strictly to one group or the other. Everyone uses a bit of both philosophies. But, for the record, I use a lot more of the first philosophy than the second.

The reason I bring this up is that, when we look at a piece of advice such as, "You shouldn't force socialization on your autistic child," or "Your autistic child needs to know exactly what is expected of her in terms of behavior in public," it's useful to know which philosophical camp the person giving that advice is coming from. If they are coming from the second camp, they probably wouldn’t force socialization – or anything else for that matter – on their NT kid either. Likewise, people in the first camp usually think that everyone, NT, ND adult and child, benefits from knowing what is expected of them.

What this means is that approaches to parenting children that are presented as approaches specific to parenting autistic children may depend less on in the child in question than they do on the parent in question. And that is OK. As BeAGoodDad says, "Raise your child like he is your child whether he has a special need or not."

I guess the reason for my talking about this (I'm working it out as I type, as you can probably tell) is that raising an exceptional child makes me second guess myself. It makes me question my policies and my decisions. And when I see other approaches pitched as being best "for autistics," I wonder if I should be doing things differently. But I think I will try to soldier on with the choices that have I made terms of how to parent, without changing my mind every other day, because I'd probably be just as wrong if I had chosen the other way.

That said, having narrowed down the field a little bit, I think there are some special considerations for parents in the first camp raising kids with autism, but I'll have to save that for another post.


Niksmom said...

VAB, thanks for yet another great thought provoking post. It's nice to "hear" so many other parent perspectives on this issue. As the mother of a child born extremely prematurely, spending many months in the NICU, and now with multiple disabilities, it is an issue that I think many "new" parents of children with special needs face. On the one hand we are so grateful that our child is alive and doing better so we want to allow them lots of leeway. On the other, there comes apoint at which we must recognize that we are not doing our child any favors by making allowances and/or assumptions about behaviors. I am saying this in a terribly muddled way. I wrote about it a while back in a couple of posts (here -- and here --

I think this ties into some of what Joeymom wrote about in her "Don't Be Afraid" post which you referenced. No one prepares parents for the fact that first and foremost our kids are just We must assume competence and ability. I think that all else will flow from that.
(Sorry for the rambling comment!)

Steve D said...

Wow, VAB. This is a great essay. Thanks for expanding on the thought, and don't be surprised if I also have more to say on this issue after reading this.
You have really spelled out some of the philosophical bases for parenting decisions here, which is a solid step towards understanding this set of issues. Thanks very much.