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How I Got Over My Fear of Disciplining My Child With Autism

I saw the signs at 14 months old, and I tricked my brain into thinking “No, I’m being ridiculous, she’s my second child, of course she’s going to be different.”

I believed people when they told me that she would “catch up.”

I thought she liked playing alone and was just shy.

“No, she’s tired, and she’s just rocking herself to sleep, she’s fine.”

Denial. Denial. Denial.

Evaluations, testing and then diagnosis day.

Denial sucks because it hangs on tight and attaches itself to you even long after you think it has left.

Blame and grief come hand in hand, and they too rest somewhere inside you; they creep up on you when you least expect them.

Intensive in-home therapy started when she was 19 months old; the diagnosis was official when she was 21 months old. For 20 hours a week, my home is not my home — it’s a school for Zoey and me. I sit down on the floor to participate. I learn from her four specialists and therapists. They’re her teachers, and I, too, become her teacher, advocate and caretaker. I’m always her Mommy who loves her.

Now here it comes…


I treated her like a fragile piece of fine china, a porcelain doll I didn’t want to break. Oh, how I blamed myself! I let those emotions take over and I treated Zoey differently.

I babied her and let her get away with things I would never let my 4-year-old get away with…why, I don’t know.

When blame, grief and denial attach themselves to you, they can take over. At times, you hear yourself say “She doesn’t know any better… She can’t help but throw that cup across the room… She doesn’t understand the word ‘No!’”

Oh, but she does. She most definitely does.

Denial, blame and grief… you had me for a long time.

Zoey is just like my other child — she needs to hear the word “No,” and she needs to be told, “Get down” and “Not nice.” She needs discipline, and I wasn’t giving her that.

I treated her differently.

My daughter’s diagnosis has taught me that though she learns differently, she’s not different. She’s not a fragile porcelain doll that will break.

I noticed that when I said “No!” she looked at me and smiled, as if to say, “Yup, I’ve been testing you this whole time… I’m busted!” Now, I’m learning the difference between whether or not she’s testing me or she can’t help it. So I’m different now; I’m a changed mom. I see where I made mistakes, and I’m working hard on fixing them. It’s not easy, but it’s working.

So there’s my confession: I’m not perfect. I sure did learn more about autism from my child than I ever thought I would.

Follow this journey on Melissa’s Facebook page.