Parent to parent: reflections on parenting a teen with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum

My husband and I are parents to two wonderful children; one of whom also happens to have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.  When our son was first diagnosed, and even still now, friends or members of the community will ask:  “how do you cope with parenting your son with disabilities?”, or some variation of “where do you find the patience to deal with your son?”  I guess my answer is that I don’t really see the “coping” as much different than coping with parenting our neurotypical daughter.  (As anyone who is a parent can attest to – parenting any child, disability or not, is bound to have its share of bumps in the road).   It’s the “same, but different” whether you’re parenting a neurotypical child or a child with disabilities.  We adapt our parenting based on our kids’ unique strengths and challenges.

Along the lines of “it’s the same, but different”, I have extended this to how I’ve always explained our son’s disability to the other kids in his class.  I focus on what binds them together first.  Ex.  “what are some things that you like to do?”  And they list things like swimming and computer or movies.  I then tell them that “cool, [my son] likes to do that too.  Then I ask them what things they might find hard…and they’ll list a variety of things that are challenging to them. I then list some of my son’s challenges….like talking quietly when he watches videos, or answering people when they talk to him, etc.  Then I emphasize that like them, he has some things too that he needs to work on.  So each of them has things they are good at (which makes them the same), and then they each have things that are hard for them that they need to work on, and those things are different between people.  I tend not to focus on naming the disability – as I want the focus to be on him as a person.

“It’s the same but different” also applies to our hopes and dreams for our son for the future.  When it all comes down to it – we want each of our children to be happy and joyful and have a quality of life that they are comfortable with.  A few years ago, an acquaintance, who clearly wasn’t comfortable with his own son’s diagnosis on the autism spectrum, asked us:  what will your son be able to contribute to the world?  We can only assume that what prompted him to say this was the fact that our son will need life-long support/supervision at work and school.  Of course, we were offended when he asked us, and yet sad for him at the same time that he could not see what we see:  our son is a happy boy, who appears to love his life.  He likes the activities that he participates in, even if he repeats many of them often. His presence in our family has been a blessing:  he shows us unconditional acceptance and the importance of being joyful about the simple things in life.  The activities he participates in and things he might enjoy might not be what everyone what choose:  it’s the same, but different than that of other people, and that is okay.


– Parent of a teen with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum

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