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Why I'll Always Be My Son's 'Therapeutic Mom'

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In the past year, I have heard my friends and others telling me that perhaps now that my son is making gradual progress and overall things seem stable, I may not need to be his “therapeutic mom” any longer and can just be his mom. A few months ago, I started thinking about it. Am I going to be just mom? Really? When will it happen?

From the first days of my son’s life, he needed special care. He was born prematurely; we stayed at the NICU for a long stressful month and were discharged with special instructions for care at home. As months passed, his developmental delays became more and more prominent. Later, he received a diagnosis of autism. He needs support, and part of it is having a therapeutic mom.

Looli and her son
Looli and her son.

What does it really mean to be a non-therapeutic mom? My son is a child with atypical development, so I’m not a typical mom, I’m a therapeutic mom. There are some milestones that he achieves on time, some come later, some he doesn’t achieve at all, and there are some “extra milestones” that many others do not achieve.

If I want my son to look at me, I have to give him a real opportunity to make that happen. I need to have a non-stimulating environment, where he is organized and contained. For example, sitting on a high chair without distractions. Then after I say something or ask a question, I wait. I wait for a while, and then if we succeed, he will look at me.

If my son is engaged in an activity such as running and I tell him to stop, will he? He will not stop. Not because he is not disciplined, or because he does not want to. He is too busy and cannot stop at that moment. My son doesn’t process the information around him in the same way and speed as children with typical development. If I wasn’t a therapeutic mom, I’m not sure I would know how to deal with these issues in a way that will benefit him and also myself.

Is it reasonable to expect that my son will pay attention to me and communicate with me if I’m not making an interesting voice intonation and using facial expressions and dramatic gestures? Chances are, not really. Will my son imitate me or his natural environment? I imitate him a lot, and sometimes, after a while, he will imitate me and it will be amazing.

Can I let my son play on his own for a long time? I probably could, but at this stage when the focus is on the beginning of social interactions, and because this is a very challenging area for him, it really does not help him to play on his own for long periods of time.

Can I assume that my son can manage independently while appropriately supervised at a playground or even at home? We are working on independence, but we need to be a little more cautious as he has low muscle tone and is unstable.

If my son looks at the window and sees a spider outside, and then there is a knock on the door and it’s our occupational therapist, can I immediately draw his attention to her arrival? No, it will be too fast, it can be frustrating and even upsetting. However, if I look at the spider with him, if I validate his experience and take a part in it, he can be available and ready for what’s next.

Will my son give me a hug when I ask him? He really likes to hug his teddy bear, but a human hug, even from Mommy can be perceived as threatening and scary, unexpected and therefore not wanted. If I make my request for a hug in a humorous and entertaining way, slowly approaching him, and if he is amused and in a good mood, he’ll laugh and be happy and even give me a hug.

My son is growing and developing, and making nice gradual progress. He works hard according to his capabilities and pace, and I believe that being a therapeutic mom has helped me to help him expand his play, interact for longer periods of time, imitate, learn to say “Mommy,” and feel understood, loved and important.

In every interaction we have, in every thought, feeling and experience with him, even in my dreams, I’m a therapeutic mom. Instead of struggling with myself or trying to separate the therapeutic from the mom, I am embracing the therapeutic mom in me. I am proud of her and I love her. I may not be the mom I thought I would be, but my son gave me the opportunity to be the best that I can be. He gives my life so much meaning, and my heart is full with bursting love.

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Originally published: March 24, 2016
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