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Developing Parental Optimism and Self-Care: Encouragement for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Because it can be exasperating for parents to deal with the behavioral challenges of a youngster with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), it can be reassuring for them to know that some of the negative behaviors of their son or daughter often become positive traits in adulthood.

For example, the child who doodles and draws all through school may well become an artist; the most manipulative youngster often turns out to be a remarkable leader, entrepreneur or politician; the most obstinate youngster often turns out to have fierce determination; and the youngster who argues all the time (like a jail house lawyer) may actually become a lawyer someday.

This pattern has been evidenced again and again throughout my experience in working with families affected by autism spectrum disorders:
  • One bright child with AS and ADHD who was impulsive, highly distractible, and had a poor attention span, grew up to be an exceptional emergency healthcare specialist. In an emergency, his adrenaline was apparently stimulated, so he became highly focused, able to put his analytic abilities to use while doing several tasks at once.
  • One very hyperactive youngster with AS turned out to be a very enthusiastic, productive entrepreneur.
  • Another child who sold his mom’s jewelry for 50 cents apiece grew up to be a real estate tycoon.
  • One child who was an incessant tinkerer, taking everything apart, became a mechanical engineer.
  • One boy who tried to help his peers avoid arguing, and who was teased because he was always trying to keep the peace and never projected any opinion of his own, became a mediator.
  • Another child who was very inflexible became an airplane controller who could focus intensely on the task at hand.

Self-care needs to be a priority for moms and dads of kids on the autism spectrum. For example:
  • Parents need to find supportive relatives and friends.
  • They need to locate a support group or an online parent support community that will provide a place for them to vent frustrations and obtain valuable suggestions and parenting strategies.
  • Parents need to develop a strong sense of humor. The youngster with AS or HFA needs to feel that it is not the end of the world that he has a disorder – and he needs to be able to laugh at life’s odd twists and turns, rather than taking life too seriously. Moms and dads, too, need resilience and humor. When they can have fun, and be silly with their child, everyone benefits.
  • Moms and dads themselves need nurturing to help nurture their youngster on the spectrum.
  • They need more sleep than other parents do, because the child with “special needs” can sap his parents’ energy; his disorder demands constant assistance.
  • And, parents need to go out and have fun regularly – away from their child.

It’s challenging to be a parent of any child, but it’s even more difficult to be a parent of a youngster with an autism spectrum disorder. In these special cases, parents need to become an organizer, interpreter, analyst, advocate, a spiritual advisor, psychiatrist, problem solver, notetaker, lawyer, a friend and companion, a disciplinarian, and a cheerleader. That’s certainly juggling a lot of balls all at once! But the payoff will be worth it.

Someday, your high-functioning child may very well start his or her own business, become the Mayor of your city, the CEO of a major company, an engineer, or a medical professional. So, when your AS or HFA child becomes successful in adulthood, don’t be surprised – and remember I told you so.

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