Just Keep Swimming: Parenting An Autistic Child

by Michelle Myers for The Mighty
Originally Published: 
Pixar / Disney

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…

Who have would have thought the Disney character I find myself relating to isn’t a princess trapped in a tower but a blue fish with a memory problem? As a mother to a child on the autism spectrum, believe me when I say we often feel like we’re swimming against the tide.

You see, support services don’t always come easy for children like my son. It can be a daily struggle getting the right help. Our family life is anything but normal, and we often deal with judgmental glares. It can all add a lot of pressure. I have to admit, sometimes it all feels like too much. I feel like I’m drowning. I wonder where I am going to find the strength to fight another battle for my children.

Ironically, it ends up being the most mundane of things that make me feel like I’m going to sink — like the washing up, for instance.

Last night I walked into the kitchen to face a mountain of dirty dishes. I took one look at it all and immediately felt defeated by the chipped bowls and coffee-stained mugs. I slammed the door muttering some obscenities I won’t repeat here and stomped off to bed in a right old sulk.

But do you know what? When I tentatively opened the kitchen door this morning, that mountain of dirty dishes wasn’t half as bad as I had thought it had been. My mind had been playing tricks on me because I’m a pessimist, you see — always thinking the worst.

What I should have done last night was said, “So what!”

It’s quite freeing really, going with the flow. And when I think about it, more often than not a positive can be found in most situations, even leaving the dishes.

So what if I go to bed with pots in the sink? In the grand scheme of things does it really matter? The answer to that is no, because my hubby might give in and buy me that dishwasher I’ve been after for months if I let them pile up. Strategy is what that is!

So what if I’m not one of the seven million people watching Sunday night feel-good TV? I can fast forward through the ads when I watch it later in the week anyway. That equals happy days.

So what if my morning shower happens at 10:30 p.m. because my mornings have to focus on getting my son to school with as little stress as possible, not the state of my hair? I mean, I was never a morning person anyway.

So what if the hubby and I have to book a day off work to have a date in the afternoon because we can’t get a sitter at night? We can often get a good two-for-one deal midweek at the local Harvester pub.

So what if we have to take family occasions in turn as big family gatherings are overwhelming? It means we get to spend some quality time with our daughters when it’s our turn to attend, and the spouse at home gets remote control rights all evening. Bonus!

So what if we holiday in the same place year after year because we need to stick to consistency? At least that way we always know what to expect, so there are never any nasty surprises or cockroaches under the bed.

So what if my shoes of choice are not heels? I usually have to dash to intercept a child or remote control from flying across the room. I can’t be dealing with blisters at my age now, so it’s comfort all the way for me.

So what if I have to be home by 10:30 p.m. on a night out because my son worries about me if I’m not back by the time the news has finished? As I have gotten older I am glad of it, to be honest. I would much rather be tucked up in bed with a Horlicks anyway.

So what if I had to give up my job? When one door closes another one opens, as they say. I would never be sitting here talking to you if I was still at my day job.

So what if the most communication I can get out of my son is via text because he finds talking about how he feels face to face so hard? I can screenshot his messages and keep them forever as treasured memories…and use them to embarrass him when he’s 18.

So what if I spend half of my day filling in forms and phoning people to get my son’s needs met? If I’m honest, it’s making this mama bear all the stronger for it. Grrrr!

So what if my son only wears certain socks due to his sensory issues? When we find some he likes, we buy five pairs. And that means I don’t have to spend hours hunting for those odd ones the resident sock monster likes to hide from me.

So what if we have watched “Harry Potter” 100 million times? At least now I know which spell to use in case of an invasion of Dementors — “Expecto Patronum!”

So what if my son has to go to a special education school? That’s the best place for him to learn and grow. He’s happy and accepted and feels like he belongs there. After all, that’s all we ever really want for our children, isn’t it?

So what if I lose some friends along the way due to our restricted social calendar? True friends will never leave my side, and I would rather have two or three true friends than 10 who just want me for my drunken handbag dance moves.

So what if we are not a “normal” family? Who needs normal anyway? I’ve learned not to believe Facebook’s perfect family portrayals. Everyone has their own story and challenges, no matter how perfect their lives may appear on a screen.

So what if my son is autistic? He is still the same little person, no matter what. The diagnosis may have come as a shock to me, and even knocked me sideways for a little while, but my son is unique and wonderful; I’m not going to let other people’s judgment affect how he feels about himself.

So what if people don’t agree with my choices? They are not living my life and don’t have to walk a day in my (comfy) shoes.

So maybe next time you feel yourself sinking, try saying “so what?” and swimming away. Feel the freedom of being carried by the tide for a little while. Picture yourself floating off on an inflatable bed, cocktail in hand, and humming like the little blue fish, “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

We moms don’t always have to swim against the tide, you know. It gets exhausting after a while. So from one blue fish to another, “When life gets you down, do you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!”

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