The Struggle To Be There For My Daughter With Autism

by M.B. Sanok
parenting a child with autism
pixdeluxe / iStock

In the car ride after the very first ultrasound of my first child, I distinctly remember being at a stoplight and hearing the Mariah Carey rendition of “I’ll Be There” on the radio. That time it brought me happy tears, knowing that I was given the treasured opportunity to do just that for my unborn, much-wanted child. Blame the hormones. It never crossed my mind that I may have to offer more until after my cherished daughter was diagnosed with autism.

Although I have endured situations with my daughter that were uncomfortable, nerve-racking and unexpected as well as joyful, lately I’ve wanted so much to increase her independence. On the autism spectrum, my daughter would be considered high-functioning, which puts her in a positive, yet awkward position—too neurotypical and independent in some situations, too atypical and dependent in others. However, I’ve neglected to remember that she’s still a child who needs her mother. Most 11-year-olds do, I suppose.

My daughter cannot brush her hair or teeth by herself very well and cannot tie her shoes. She still needs help shampooing her hair which is long but so pretty I can’t bear to see it short. She struggles academically, and I’m not quite sure what her true grade-level is and if it really matters. Sometimes, I get frustrated and sigh when she calls out, “Time to brush my teeth, Mom!”

Why is it such a big deal to me? Am I just being lazy and irresponsible? Why, oh, why am I in such a hurry for her to grow up? Am I feeling the delayed reaction to her delays which truly are not the worst they could be? Am I covering up my fear and depression that she won’t be independent as an adult? That she’ll miss out on the life she dreams of? And the one I dream of for her?

What needs to happen is I must help her and encourage her to be independent by figuring out easy steps for her to eventually accomplish these tasks on her own. I need to praise her when she’s made those progressions—not always expressing my exasperation. With the strides she’s already made, whether through the education and therapy she’s received and/or lessons and training learned through us, I should feel very blessed.

She can speak in sentences, is potty-trained, reads independently (and with great inflection); has many hobbies like reading, playing with dolls, putting together puzzles, and cheerleading; loves makeup, clothes, jewelry, purses, and listening to the Grease soundtrack as well as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry; and thankfully, sasses us like any typical tween in addition to bickering with her brother. Those last two things alone tell me that she’s maturing and developing like any other girl her age. Who knew that I’d be happy with sassing and sibling fights? But it speaks volumes to me that maybe everything in her future will be OK.

I mean, really, I didn’t even know how to do laundry until I learned from a college friend in my freshman year. “Wash everything in cold!” she exclaimed. As for cooking, I can do the bare minimum, but I wasn’t lying when I swooned upon learning that my husband loves to cook. As for sports, I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life.

So I’m back to remembering that long ago evening stuck at a stoplight, feeling strangely moved by a song, and hoping it inspires me to continue to help that little girl who has happily upended my life and stolen a piece of my heart. Just like my marital vows to my husband, I also made a commitment to my daughter, and I intend to keep it. I’ll be there for you, my daughter.

This post originally appeared on JerseyMomsBlog.