23 November 2018 – They describe themselves as the “stereotypical kiwi family”. But at home they’re certainly not the average family.
I HAVE A good job, my wife runs a not-for-profit and is a qualified social worker.
We have two of our three kids still at home. There’s the house in the suburbs, car that’s only a few years old, and we’re lucky enough to have three small dogs.
From the outside-in, we tick all of the white-middle-class-average-family boxes.
Except we’re not.
For the people that know us well, it’s obvious that we’re certainly not the average family.
Both my wife and myself have a dual diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – me more ASD, my wife more ADHD.
And because we are who we are, we’re not the average parents either. So it was always a given that our kids were going to be a little different. Not what society calls ‘normal’.
That’s because, in our family (and probably most others) normal is subjective. Our family works around mutual understanding and acceptance. Sometimes as parents we do well, sometimes we fail dismally. Most of the time we’re somewhere in between.
We have great days. We have not-so-great days. We have days when our own hyperfocus or special interest means the rest of the world is a blur, and things do get missed. But what we do really well is accept each other, and our kids, for who they are. Yes, it can be frustrating. It can be awkward. It can be ridiculous.
There are laughter and tears. But mostly, it just is. And usually it works for us okay.
But it’s taken a while to get to where we are now. As autistics, appreciating someone else’s point of view is hard at the best of times. Spouses don’t come with instruction manuals, and neither do kids.
And just because it was a certain way for us when growing up, doesn’t mean that it’s the same today. As a parent dealing with an emotional teenager, who is full of hormones and doesn’t know themselves why they’re upset, it can feel impossible. Our youngest often has to be encouraged away from his room and computer into daylight, so we can remind him that there is a world outside a computer screen.
For me particularly, my own sense of black-and-white is often a problem for the rest of the family.
My wife’s spontaneity and noise throws our youngest son completely, and I struggle with it myself even on good days. We’ve had to learn as a couple the art of compromise and negotiation. And as parents, to pick our battles even when we know we’re right. It can be tough.
In a lot of ways, being who we are makes us better parents to our quirky kids. In our family, it’s okay (and expected) that we’ll be our authentic selves.
Stuff that would throw some parents completely we can take in our stride.
But in some ways it’s harder. Some days we have to keep reminding each other that there are no perfect parents out there. And all we can do is be the best we can be.
- The author prefers to remain anonymous.
- This article appeared in Altogether Autism Journal, Issue 3 2018