Why I’m a Proud Helicopter Parent of My Sons With Autism

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I’m the mom you see at the park, following closely behind my child. Sometimes I play with him and follow his lead. Like really play. I stomp in the puddles, walk up the slide and swing so high that terror dances with exhilaration. He reminds me how good it feels to do things that we adults call pointless. Sometimes I am simply a shadow, making sure he stays safe and is well behaved. Either way, I’m always close behind.

I have heard it referred to as a helicopter parenting. “It means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting,” Dr. Ann Dunnewold, a licensed psychologist, told Parents.com. So you see, it’s supposed to be a bad thing, but as far as parenting goes, it’s one that is necessary for me.

I don’t go to the park to relax. In fact, I frequently have to talk myself into even going, and I have a pep talk with myself the whole drive there. You can do this. You will not let your fear compromise their childhood joys. And I often make a pact with myself — 30 minutes. No matter what you can handle 30 minutes.

I don’t mind if you sit on the sidelines. This parenting thing is tough, and if you have a minute or 20 to sit and relax, by golly, go for it. Heck, I don’t even care if you paint your nails while eating a turkey sandwich. I don’t mind if you’re like me, following close behind. Unless it’s dangerous, how you parent is absolutely none of my business. When it comes to parenting, there is no one size fits all. There are often two extremes and a million grays in between.

I’ve seen a surge of “Dear Helicopter Moms, You’re Ruining It for Everyone Else” articles. I feel sad for anyone who would witness my behavior and interactions with my boys and simply see a helicopter mom. They’re missing out on all the beauty in our gray.

You see, both of my boys have autism. A walk in the park is anything but. I often leave the park with my ponytail undone. I’m speckled with earth and sweat. On rare occasions, I leave with tears in my eyes.

My youngest has trouble following simple directions. Stop. Come here. Wait.

We work on it daily in therapy, but it is best reinforced through real-life experiences. He still tries to run by himself into dangerous parking lots and streets. He would hop into a stranger’s car without a glance back at me. It would be safer and easier at home, but that wouldn’t be fair to him at all.

My oldest has a hard time sharing and waiting his turn. He has problems with proprioreception or the ability to “feel” his body and what it’s doing. I have to make sure he doesn’t knock over your little one on his way to the slide. He frequently runs into people. He also thinks as long as he says, “My turn,” he can have something instantly. The swing, your ball, your chips.

I love my precious two, and parenting them is an honor. I just wanted to share some gray with you today, because it’s easier to love more and judge less when we know someone’s story. And everyone has a story that helped shape us into the person we are and the choices we make today. My boys taught me that if all we see is the cover, we’re missing out on the best parts of what makes up the book. I keep that in mind when I feel that pang of unfamiliarity when watching people interact in the world.

The way my children view the world isn’t wrong, but it is different. And because they view the world differently, so do I. And that is a gift. It’s given me a better perspective and given us a beautiful story.

A Proud Helicopter Parent,

Chrissy

Chrissy Kelly.2-001

Follow this journey on Life With Greyson.

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To the Man Who Said ‘Just Don’t Fly With Him If That’s the Way He Is’

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To the man on our flight from Minnesota to Texas,

I’m sorry if my son Will’s occasional movements and loud talking disturbed your flight. I truly am, though in all honesty, he was good on this flight and no more active than a neurotypical child would be. He never once directly disturbed your seat, just the empty seat next to you that was in front of him. (I try as much as possible to put him behind empty seats.)

I’m also sorry you couldn’t speak to me or the flight attendants civilly during the flight to tell us your problems with my son, so that either you or we could have changed seats (there were several available). I’m even more sorry you felt the need to loudly bring up your evaluation of my son’s behavior at the end of the flight and not temper your response as I tried to explain the situation.

However, I’m not sorry that I will not heed your suggestion of “just don’t fly with him if that’s the way he is” because, as you wouldn’t let me explain, he needs to fly to Minnesota every other week because it’s his only chance at life. And frankly, no special needs parent should have to hear that callous and discriminatory restriction.

I’m sorry you didn’t take a moment to talk to my boy and see what every other person sees as we travel: a sweet boy with a loving and generous heart, who has a smile and a kind word for everyone he meets. My boy sees the people most of us ignore and I love him for his ability to make friends with every person with whom he comes in contact. I’m sorry you didn’t want to be his friend, because you’ve missed out on something special.

I will pray for you and pray that no one you love ever receives a terminal diagnosis that causes them regression or loss of their faculties that makes others look at them as if they are “abnormal” or “worthless.” Because I never want anyone, even you, to feel how I was made to feel tonight.

All people are significant. All people deserve kindness. All people deserve respect. My son knows that. I hope one day you learn it, too.

Sincerely,

Momma WILLPower


To learn more about Will and his journey with Sanfilippo Syndrome, please visit the WILL Power Facebook page.

To learn more about Sanfilippo syndrome and what you can do to help, please visit www.CureSFF.org.

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3 Surprising Ways Strangers Have Reacted to My Son With Dwarfism

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My son’s blond hair and hazel eyes are not his most unique features, though quite special. His beautiful smile, captivating everyone, is not what sets him apart. My son’s dwarfism is what people notice when meeting him for the first time. I welcome each encounter hoping to share the miracle that is my son.

Here are a some memorable moments that especially stand out to me.

1. A Surprise Question:

“How old is your baby?” the nurse asked.

I winced at the word, baby.

Mmm, how should I answer? I’ve come to the realization that being direct is the best method. I used to answer with just a number, not mentioning whether it was in months or years. I thought being elusive was the best policy, but then I’d see a look of confusion and I’d end up confessing my son’s true age.

You see, my son has a rare form of dwarfism called thanatophoric dysplasia. At 10 years old, he is 25 inches long and weighs in at around 20 pounds, give or take depending on how much cereal he eats. He has the face of a young boy but the body of a baby.

We were at a restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina when a waitress asked about our son’s age. We both paused and then my husband asked, “How old do you think he is?”

She looked at Samuel, silent for a moment. “About nine months old.”

We both smiled. Instead of leaving the conversation there, my husband began to share what a miracle our little boy is overcoming a “not compatible with life” diagnosis. We shared how he wasn’t expected to live past birth, his months in the hospital and how we were blessed when he was able to come off his ventilator.

2. A Surprise Smile:

Recently, as I was entering the grocery store, I was following several steps behind my husband as he pushed my son in the stroller ahead of me. A young lady with silky brunette hair was leaving the grocery store. As she passed the stroller, she tilted her head back to look at my son. I then saw her face light up with a brilliant smile. I tucked her response in my heart.

We didn’t get to tell her she just saw a miracle, but her response really touched me.

3. A Surprise Reaction:

At a local restaurant, we followed the hostess to a booth. As we passed another table, my son’s eyes mesmerized a tall blonde eating her meal.  After we finished our meal, I asked to pay the tab and was informed the bill had already been paid. Seeing my surprise, the waitress pointed to the blonde. I went to her table and thanked her for the kindness. She proceeded to tell me how my son captivated her as we passed her table. We exchanged emails.

I received this email from her the next day. “I saw everything that was important in his eyes when he first looked at me and I have never experienced anything like that in my 48 years. I was supposed to meet Samuel and when he left, I had something from him….courage. I have been afraid of making changes, taking initiatives, loving, and the list goes on. I was up all night thinking about what you had said to me and reflecting on the look I received from Samuel. It may sound a little nutty, but he is the angel I desperately needed to meet.”

I treasure how my son moves the hearts of those he meets. As our son continues to grow, very slowly, we’ll continue to receive a variety of reactions from the public.  And as we do, we’ll continue to share our miracle, and hopefully he’ll continue to inspire others.

Follow this journey on Miracle Mann.

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To My Daughter With Autism, From Your Proud Dad

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Daddy wants to write you a letter and say thank you.

Thank you for asking questions.

Thank you for adapting to and embracing your autism diagnosis.

Thank you for being proud of who you are.

Thank you for teaching me to see the world differently.

Last weekend we played together in the city — thousands of people around, noise, lights, sand. It was hard for you. We held hands and embraced this adventure together. Remember the fun we had? You controlling the fireworks and swimming at the beach. We walked through the shops and enjoyed plain cheese pizza for dinner.

You wore your headphones and brought sensory toys to help when you became overwhelmed. I’m proud of you for trying new things. I think it helped you heaps.

You make my days fun, princess. I go to bed each day not complaining about the lack of sleep, a new stain on my floor or even that a week’s worth of groceries was used in the backyard for play.

I fall asleep grateful — grateful my life is full of adventures, laughing and sneaky cuddles. The cuddles are my favorite. Thank you for random cuddles; I know you don’t like them too much, but they are so special to me, and I treasure each one.

Thank you for constantly trying. We know that going outside is hard, reading people is hard and living with five others at times is hard, but we tackle this together.

This year has been busy, and you’ve been bombarded with doctors, therapy sessions, medication and routines. It’s been exhausting and tough, and we both wanted to quit, although nearly one year on we are both stronger. Home is a safe place, a place it’s always OK to experiment, test theories and if needed, melt down. No judgment there — just unconditional love and acceptance.

I remember your plan at your new school. You made up a way to explain your autism to your friends. At the point of introduction, you apologized and stated you might say things that may upset them. “I’m loud and sometimes can be rude.” I was so proud; that was a very grown-up decision to make. Did you notice this choice has made school so much easier this year and you have so many friends? Well done!

Lastly, thank you for the laughs. You make me laugh every day. You’re literal; you see the world your way.

Keep trying, keep dreaming and keep proving the others wrong.

Love you sweetie,

Dad

Follow this journey on My ASD Princess.

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Kids Made Fun of Her Brother With Autism, So She Wrote This

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When 7-year-old Paige Morgan heard kids making fun of her brother Adam, who has autism, she didn’t lash out. Instead, she went home to her mom, who helped her realize this was an opportunity to educate.

“I just said that I didn’t think the kids really knew what was going on, they were 7 years old… and I thought this was a good teachable moment,” Rachel Morgan told KMOV. “So I said, ‘You know honey, I could come in and talk to the kids, but I really think it would be better if it came from you.’”

After speaking with the kids, who responded positively, Paige set out to find a book to further explain her brother’s differences. And when she couldn’t find one, she decided to write her own. Paige, now 9, wrote the intro for “Building Forever Friendships: Strategies to Help Your Friend With Autism and Other Special Needs in School,” which her mom penned.

The book, available here, is already being used in classrooms to teach kids about autism.

“It warms my heart, as the author and a mother, that this book has promoted great heartwarming discussion amongst our children and teachers to better understand and accept everyone for who they are,” Rachel Morgan wrote on Facebook.

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How Opening Up About My Autism Brought Me New Life

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I’m coming out of the closet to every single one of you today. It might not be the “out of the closet” you expected, but it is my puzzling and unique autism closet, filled with memories, drawings, writings and deep miscommunications.

I am bursting out, swinging open the door loud and proud, with all of the quirks, complexities and traits that make me the person I am today.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t always this way. Disabilities like autism often are viewed in our world as things of which to be ashamed or to hide.

Think about your previous interactions or experiences with people with disabilities. Maybe you pitied a kid in a special education class, bullied someone, felt uncomfortable during a conversation or thought it was the kind of thing your parents might see sensationalized on “Dr. Phil.”

These all seem like valid reasons for someone to keep an autism diagnosis to him or herself, or to be shared and discussed in hushed tones on a discretionary basis.

Most likely, this diagnosis is shared only with family members who have been there every step of the way since hearing the fateful words, “Your child has autism.”

On the contrary, I feel it is my duty to hold my head up high and embrace my autistic identity.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 68 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. That’s a lot of future adults to be hiding in the same closet I’ve been in, whispering the A-word like it’s a death sentence.

I did it for most of my life, and didn’t embrace autism enough to shout about it on social media or even to close friends. I wanted to pass as normal and not be judged. I didn’t want to be labeled autistic; it was easier to tell people I was just shy or quiet.

In a culture that values norms and conformity, I wanted to be socially accepted without being too different. I was afraid of being judged, being ridiculed or treated differently. There came a point I realized I had no choice but to be honest about my journey as more people embark on similar ones.

Without further ado: I am Haley and I am autistic. I actually came out of the autism closet back in high school at the tender age of 14, but only meekly after being put on the spot by my English teacher.

At 20, I can tell you that being different is awesome. I love being me; I love being a self-identified introverted creative type with a misunderstood mind that misses out on valuable social cues and exotic foods. I love being one of the most socially awkward people you might ever meet, but I am also one of the most honest.

I might hit developmental and societal milestones in a different order than my peers, but I am able to accomplish these small victories on my own time.

Coming out of this closet has been liberating and thrilling. If I were not autistic, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I would not be the author of two books, I would not be a guest lecturer, I would not have such authentic friendships built on honesty and trust and I would not know how great success truly feels without the level of challenge I have experienced.

There is something extremely comforting in knowing I do not have to hide who I really am to the world and pretend to be an actress on the grand stage of life. This experience of coming out of the autism closet has not been perfect, however. There are lots of downfalls to it, too.

I have been discriminated against, asked inappropriate questions, told I was jumping on the diversity bandwagon and called names. I don’t want to focus on these injustices today. I’m not here to tell you I’m awesome, but that I feel awesome to have this fierce self-acceptance thing going on.

In turn, you shouldn’t feel bad for me because the word “autism” is branded on my identity. I am stronger than the negative perception of autism that is out there, and I am damn proud of that.

This post originally appeared on Elite Daily.

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