Are you a visual person? Chances are, if you are a parent of a child with autism, you’re visual like me. If you’re an artist, ditto. Here’s a coping strategy I developed early in my journey with my daughter.
Most all our special needs children are vulnerable. Statistics and news media reports help substantiate the facts that less than desirable things can happen: bullying, abuse, name your fear.
Here’s how I learned to cope and stop going there.
First, sticking one’s head in the sand, an approach I’ve seen backfire badly, is not an effective strategy. We don’t have to ignore the reality of our children’s vulnerability and I don’t believe we “should.” But the more common strategy, fear and dread, nightmares lived out in the daily fretting worries of our lives, is not effective either. And, it likely will add to the lines in our faces, the graying of our hairs and most important shorten our life span. Stress does that, you know. We worry about being there for our children as they age and yet that worry can help insure that we won’t last as long or that our health will be impaired in the process. I want to be healthy and vibrant for me and for Grace. It takes work, dedication and committment. Besides physical good health and nutritional health, it also takes good mental health.
Instead of fixating on what could go wrong in my daughter’s life (and we have hit some of these hurdles, such as bullying in elementary school,) I think of a blue, cloud-studded sky. And then, I mentally visualize a door hanging in the middle of that sky. Actually there are several doors.
Each door has a plaque on it naming what’s behind the door. Behind the door and inscribed on that plaque is the name of a fear. Those nasty ones I named above.
I know from my experience, from the rapid energy suck of my early fear-mongering obsessions, that if I go up to any of those doors and turn the door knob, I’ll get sucked in. Fear is an ugly life-grabbing vortex. Now, what good does that do? It takes me into a reality that is not even there in the present moment, right now, right here with my child.
So, once my experiences taught me not to step one foot over the threshold of those doors to my worst disAbility fears for my daughter, I realized that in order to not go the total opposite direction of denial, the path of preparation was golden and contained in the practice of acquiring knowledge. I learned I could be prepared by educating my daughter’s peers about her differences. By educating her teachers and the school administration. I could educate the neighbors. And, very importantly: I could educate her on what was acceptable and not. I trusted, just as it is believed with young infants, that on some level she would understand what I was saying. And I kept saying it and still say it on graduating levels according to her maturity. As she’s aged, I can see as she goes in public that she has a sense of her own appropriate boundaries.
Wherever one’s child is developmentally, the parent can prepare this way. Attend a seminar. Read an internet article. Talk to other parents or teachers. (Warning: I had to learn to stay away from parents that dwell on the other side of those doors. Their fears, constantly paraded with pomp, kept me at the threshold of my own doors of fears.
So, having paved that golden path of knowledge to those doors I/we choose not to open–should life circumstances rudely barge us over the threshold–then, we will be prepared. And this has happened with bullying for us….I have known parents who were barged through doors with no preparation, no knowledge or skills of what to do or that it could happen. They took an unplanned side journey paved with a fast track of ignorance.
Do yourself a favor. Hang a door. Or create a box. Or a dust pan and a broom to gather up the dirty debris of fears that will not serve you. I have used all of these images. I especially love my curved golden paths. I rest assured knowing they are there and that I’ve committed not to go through the doors at their end. Unless I have to do so.
What coping strategies do you use?
Photos: ©LeisaHammett.com ~ Left to right, Clouds in Carolina, Three Keys for Unlocking Mother Guilt