What’s It Like To Mother A Child On The Spectrum?

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What’s it like mothering a child on the spectrum?

Can you swim?

Yes? No? Never mind,…just pretend you can’t swim and you’ve been ordered to water ski. Intuitively if one can’t swim,…then one certainly can’t water ski,…yet nevertheless you’ve been thrown into a lake with your only lifeline a tow rope hitched to a speed boat,…and zip off you go!

Thump,…thump,…thump,…gurgle,…gasp,…thump,…thump you go at super sonic speeds being continuously dunked by the crashing wake as you hang on for dear life.

Forget screaming for help,…you can’t breathe long enough, and your only thought is keeping a grip on that tow rope,…every few seconds it feels like it is slipping.

In the boat,…folks are screaming,…some are offering instructions, some encouragement, but with all the water in your ears you can barely make out the confusing noise,…and to be honest,…you really don’t care. Your heart is breaking, you are scared and confused,…utterly exhausted,…and utterly unable to let go of that tow rope,…lest you drown.

Is it like this for everyone when they first get an autism diagnosis? I don’t know,…but I will never pretend not to have been devastated by the news. No one,..absolutely no one wants their child to have challenges,…especially such serious ones.

Some people liken the experience of learning your child has special needs to being dropped in a Rabbit Hole, via Alice In Wonderland,…and that’s not a bad analogy your world is certainly different. But then remember,…Wonderland was kinda weird, but kinda wonderful, too.

Back to that speedboat,…it seems heartless,…zipping you around the lake of life,…but it’s useless to rail against reality,…some things just are what they are,…and you do find that the tow rope is faithful to hold; it never frays against the elements.

Eventually your grip on that tow rope gets stronger,…it has no choice, but to strengthen. Are you skiing? Nope, but you’re hanging on with your head above water,…and you kinda get use to the thumping wake so you can kinda avoid the head-water. Also the speedboat seems nearer now and you can hear instructions from others who have gone before you,…and the cheers from loved ones help,…they help a lot.

Make no mistake it is an exhausting experience,…learning to balance and juggle and somehow pull those ski-laden feet around to the right position. It takes strength,…and unfortunately it takes time for muscles to strengthen,…but guess what?

One day you actually get to your feet.

Of course you wipe out, but you’re astonished to discover you can actually tread water,…and when that tow rope comes around you willingly grab it. For your child’s sake,…you are going to learn to ski,…and it doesn’t matter how many times you wipe out,…you’re getting back up. You’ve had a glimpse of the lake view,…it’s amazing.

The wind in your hair,…the freedom of the waves,…and you marvel that you ever feared this extraordinary experience. 

Eventually your turn is over,…but you’re not leaving the lake. You will NEVER leave the lake,…nor will your child,…but that’s okay,…lake life is not so bad: different,but wonderful.

Believe it or not but you’re going to find yourself in the boat where you will scream instructions,…and encouragement to others,…knowing they can’t hear you,…and don’t really care,…but nevertheless need your presence in the boat,…because those first few days, and weeks, and months,…and even years,…can be a rough ride.

Our little guy was worth the ski lesson,…a thousand times over. We’re not exactly in the boat yet, but we’ve definitely learned how to get to our feet and lean back on that rope of faith. Without faith,…there is no way we would have made it this far.

Mothering a child on the spectrum is definitely an exercise in ‘…walking by faith, not by sight.”

Thankfully early on we learned that two choices were before us: delight or devastation. Trust me,…it is so much easier to be utterly delighted by what our child can do now,…then be utterly devastated by what our child can not do,…yet.

Yet is a lovely word,…so full of promise.

Special needs children have,…ta dah,…special needs,…and so do special needs mothers.It’s a different world,…it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. However,…different is not less,…typical kids and their folks go to the lake as well,…it’s an awesome place,…especially when you eventually learn to water ski.

P.S. check out that happy little face at the top of this post,…that sunshine smile makes every day,…every single day,…worthwhile.


To EVERY mother out there


may God bless and keep you!

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