This is the second in a series of posts about being a mom with Asperger’s–a combination of reflections on how my AS affected my parenting abilities and some advice that I wish someone has given me when I was struggling to make sense of being an unconventional mom. Hopefully some of what I learned the hard way will be useful to other moms in the same situation.
I know I haven’t been a perfect mother but I also know that the perfect mother doesn’t exist. As moms, we do the best we can under often challenging circumstances. We each have our individual strengths and weaknesses as parents. But aspie parents have some unique strengths and weaknesses.
Everything from issues with sensory overload to problems with social interaction can affect our ability to parent effectively or even competently. In his starkly honest assessment of aspie parents, Dr. Tony Attwood lists some of the many challenges a family may face when one parent has Asperger’s: “the imposition of inflexible routines and expectations . . . the intolerance of noise, mess and any intrusion into the parent’s solitary activities, the perceived invasion of the home by the children’s friends, and a black and white analysis of people.”
These potential challenges may begin to emerge during pregnancy and quickly intensify with the arrival of the baby.
Babies are stressful. They’re unpredictable. They’re messy. They’re demanding. They don’t care if mom is sleep-deprived or suffering from sensory overload or finds breastfeeding painful or needs a couple of hours of alone time to regroup. When you throw in postpartum hormonal fluctuations and the challenges of Asperger’s, it’s no surprise that the result can be epic meltdowns more fit for a toddler than a new mother.
When Jess was a baby, there were days when I felt like I was going to lose my mind if she didn’t stop crying. I remember one day in particular when I found myself standing in the dining room, sobbing uncontrollablly and repeatedly banging my head against the wall. If you’ve ever seen an autistic child have a meltdown, it probably looked something like this. I can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for my husband–watching the mother of his child regress to that point.
But instead of losing his temper or fleeing, he was there to rescue me before I could slip too far into that abyss. He kept me tethered to reality in a concrete way that allowed me to stay connected to Jess when my natural instinct was to withdraw.
One of the keys to surviving the first months of motherhood as an aspie mom is support. All new moms need time to themselves to regroup, but for aspie moms this is especially important.
Honestly, there may be times when you feel like you can’t stand to be around your baby. He won’t stop crying or he won’t settle down for a much anticipated nap or he’s in the mood to play when you’re exhausted. Don’t feel guilty. Needing a timeout doesn’t make you a bad mother.
It’s okay–healthy, in fact–to ask for help from a partner, relative or babysitter so you can take a short break. And if getting an hour to yourself means preventing a meltdown, that’s going to make you a better mom in the long run.
If you find your anxiety level rising at a time when you aren’t able to immediately call on one of the supportive people in your life, it may help to have some strategies you can draw on to de-escalate your stress. Many of things that babies and toddlers find calming may also be soothing for moms with Asperger’s. Here are a few options to consider:
- A rocking chair: Lots of adult aspies still find rocking to be soothing and when you’re doing it with a baby in a rocking chair, you’ll find that no one looks at you funny. I had two rocking chairs as a kid and a comfy rocker was one the first things I put on my wish list as a mom-to-be.
- Music: Singing to your baby, dancing around the living room with your toddler or just enjoying a favorite song together can all be soothing. For a few months as an infant, the only thing that put my daughter to sleep at night was U2’s Joshua Tree album, played at what was probably an inappropriately loud volume.
- Water: Many aspies say that water is calming. If you have access to a swimming pool, you and your child might enjoy spending time in the water together. Once your toddler is old enough, you may find that she enjoys playing in the tub while you soak in a warm bath.
- Pets: A dog or cat is often high on the list of expert recommendations for adult aspies. Petting, cuddling or playing quietly with the family pet can be a way to spend time with your child while you de-escalate.
- Walking: If you have a quiet place to walk, you may find that exercise combined with fresh air and sunshine is a good way to head off a potential meltdown for you and an instant sleep-inducer for your little one.
- Driving: The same goes for a drive along quiet roads. I remember evenings when my husband and I drove around with Jess in the back seat because it seemed like the only way to get an hour of quiet time.
Of course, there’s the toddler who screams the minute you put him in his car seat and the aspie mom who finds driving stressful rather than relaxing. Not all of the strategies that worked for me will work from everyone. Hopefully this list will be a jumping off point for you when it comes to finding “rescue” activities that you can share with your child.
Next in the series: The joys and terrors of toddlerhood