Do you have an autistic child? If so, your parenting experience may be different than your peers. I’m not talking about the missed milestones or serious struggles you may have. I mean, there are some weird things about raising these kids. Today I’m going to point out a few. Todays’ post is for the autism moms who understand what I’m talking about.

You can never run out of ketchup. Never.

Ketchup is an essential staple. It turns out that it can go on far more foods than I ever considered. Ketchup doesn’t just go on french fries. It can go on any meat and any vegetable. I have seen it top broccoli, baked potatoes, and baked chicken, among other foods I never thought to put it on. And my children consider it a crime against humanity if we run out. Ketchup makes food feel familiar and taste familiar even when it isn’t.

Okay, so maybe your house doesn’t use ketchup, maybe your child eats ranch dressing, hot sauce, jelly, or peanut butter with every meal every day. But we just accept it. Some people shop for milk and eggs as staples, our lists just include ketchup and ranch dressing. No problem.

Your Child has been lost

If you haven’t lost your child in a public place and then had them blame you for not staying with them… are you sure your child is autistic? This one is terrifying but true. Every autism mom I know, myself included, has had the moment where their child was “missing.” It is heart-wrenching and gut-clenching when you look around and the child who was RIGHT THERE is not.

Thankfully, in my own stories of this and those of my friends, the child always has been found safe and sound. Usually, the child who wandered off looks up and goes “Oh mommy, there you are!” Like it was you, not them, who wasn’t where they were supposed to be. One of my 3 kids has been “lost” several times over the years. Not once have they acted upset about it. Not once. Every single time, that child has been 100% calm and expected that I would find them eventually. Thank goodness I did.

You NEVER surprise your child.

Some people like surprises. Other people need to be prepared for all possible events and surprises can cause meltdowns. You know which type of child you are raising. Expected surprises are okay, like a nicer birthday present than they expected. That’s alright. Usually.

But some surprises are stressful. Being surprised with a trip to Disney World is not a good surprise. It sounds like a good one, right? I mean, some kids jump up and down for joy to learn they are not going to Grandma’s house after-all and are instead on the way to Disney. But not all kids. Some kids find this stressful. They need months to learn about where they are going. They need time to anticipate. They need time to think about how they will navigate a lot of new and different experiences.

This is an extreme case, but autism parents know, you have to prepare your child for new activities. We discuss what to expect. We talk through what to do if something goes wrong. “Please don’t hide from everyone like last time. Instead, tell the adult in charge to call me and I will come to help you.” We explain everything we can so that our kids can feel comfortable and not meltdown in a new situation.

You only buy unscented laundry detergent.

Why are the autistic kids I know allergic to perfumes, dyes, and various cleaners? I don’t know the answer. But I do know that those things are a quick trip to meltdown city. We buy “free and clear” soaps because the others cause rashes and headaches. I wash with vinegar and baking soda because if the house smells like lemons or pine trees everyone will get sick.

You’ve adjusted your family’s diet.

Maybe you realized that your child had a meltdown every time they had red 40, and cut out artificial colors. Or maybe your child had a constant stomach ache that led to a lot of tests and cutting out gluten, eggs, or dairy. Maybe it isn’t allergies, but textures that cause your child problems and that have changed how your family eats. But if your child is autistic, you’ve probably adjusted your family’s diet to meet your child’s needs.

You have cleaned up insane messes.

Autistic kids just see potential where the rest of us don’t. At least, that’s what I told myself while I cleaned up the messes that apparently are not “normal.” I thought all kids made messes, then I talked to other parents and learned that my kids are exceptional.

A shortlist of unusual messes from my house

  • Finger painted the walls and couch with Cool-Whip. Normal kids probably just use markers, but this had texture!
  • Dumped out all the sugar and salt onto the kitchen floor to make a “beach.”
  • Created a domino set out of bricks. The last brick landed on a can of “Great Stuff” (expanding foam) that burst and exploded out the side of the can. It was an epic mess! Thank goodness this one happened outside.
  • Poured out jars of honey on the floor. This was in the age before those “So satisfying” videos on YouTube of things like this. I wish I had realized the potential.
  • Kids used the paint we were painting the kitchen with to paint the outside of the house while we were busy. Have you ever had to scrub house paint off a house? Soap and water while the paint is still wet works pretty well.
  • At age two, one of my kids stood on the dining room table and dropped plates off it to see if they would all break the same. I have been told this was the toddler version of scientific discovery. I have since often wondered what it was like to be Albert Einstein’s mother.

Please tell me that I’m not alone and your kids also are exceptional at making messes!

You have wanted to punch a professional

While parenting an autistic child, at least once, you have had to navigate dealing with a doctor, therapist, or teacher who did not listen to you and your child about what they needed. Having a person who can help your child not listen is one of the most frustrating things on earth. I’m a seriously non-violent person, but there is a shortlist of people I’d punch in the face given the chance. Those who could have helped my child and didn’t top that list.  This is part of why we homeschool. It keeps my list short.

You love them to the moon and back.

Being a mom of an autistic child is hard, but it is also amazing. They are remarkable people who have unique perspectives. I love my kids and I love getting to be their mom.

You can interpret this list as a list of complaints about my kids, but I don’t. I share all of this in solidarity with other parents who are going through it. All of you who buy ketchup each week and meditate so that you can be as patient as you need to be, I see you. I see you struggling to figure out what your child needs. I see you doing your best not to complain but also feeling overwhelmed at times. This life we have is crazy and special and we all need to support each other while we raise these remarkable people.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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