As a parent of a child with autism, do you participate or belong to an autism support group? You can easily find groups on facebook, the Internet, or maybe from you local school district.
I can remember the years I thought I could handle being an autism mom all by myself. But my days and nights were long. There was a lot of loneliness. Feelings of depression and anger. Thoughts of uselessness. There were also the days when I thought I was the strongest person at handling Puppy all by myself.
But, what about me? What about me? No one ever asked how I dealt with Puppy and autism on a daily basis. I'd hear comments like, you are stronger than me, I could never raise a child with autism, he's just spoiled, stop with the time out and spank him, he's an angel and so are you, you're doing great, and keep up the good work. Those are the most common remarks and they are just too many more to remember right now. Mostly the comments were giving me a reason to be stay away, stay alone. Keeping my distance from family and friends must have made everyone think that everything was just fine and dandy. But it never was. There was never "me" time. It is all about Puppy, 24/7. No one really wants to hear how you are doing. No one really wants to know how you do it from day to day. No really wants to hear your needs and wants.
I was wrong. One day a flier came home in Puppy's backpack. It was a support group for autism. Huh? What does that even mean, I thought. I wasn't sure but I was curious. This came years after learning that Puppy had autism. And suddenly from nowhere they were there, support. My confusion was that I expected it was an out of the school district learning center for Puppy. I wasn't going to let a chance get passed us without first checking it out.
So we anxiously arrived to the meeting on a Wednesday at 6:30 in the evening. We were greeted with smiles and shown into a room with about 8 other parents and some kids. Some parents were there alone. Hmm? I thought it was probably a gathering to find out how many participants they could find to attend this support center for our kids. Nope, I was wrong. A person stood up in front of the room and started talking. She was also an autism mom, and welcomed the families. She asked us to introduce ourselves and our child. After that she said, "I see some new faces. We are going to continue going around the room one at a time and tell us, how are you doing?" I didn't understand the question. I thought she was asking for information on how our kids are doing in school. But the first parent started speaking and I heard story after story about the daily lives of the families present. There was some head nodding and uh-huh's from other parents...and from ME! It hit me. I can speak about ME! Someone wants to know how I am doing. I felt great relief, comfort. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. And every other parent in the room knew exactly what I meant and what I was going through. And I knew what they were going through as well. There was this strange unity in the room. I hadn't felt that before.
Autism parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, anyone...please find some time to attend an autism support group meeting in your area or join a group if even only on facebook or over the Internet.
I also understood how to have a greater connection with Puppy's teachers and aides throughout the years. They were there all the time, I just never reached out to them for support. My distance kept me silent and alone. But not anymore. Help in the form of shared experiences was my new comfort. I slowly visited several local autism support groups and found the one that was right for me. I still go back to the other groups now and then, and keep friends with some of the parents from each of the groups.
Support is defined to give assistance. Different types of assistance come from a support group. As I attended more meetings, I was better informed as a parent, because some of our meeting included visitors or speakers, and introductions to therapy providers. I found out about programs for the disabled. Programs that I needed to sign up Puppy for to be on a waiting list for aid into adulthood. I found out about centers for self-help skills after high school. Respite and in-home training were also introduced to me. All this information was exactly what I needed and I didn't have to look for it, it came to me at my support group meeting. I wonder now if I would have learned about some of these programs if I had not joined a support group.
So now, I was able to accept my challenges knowing I was not alone anymore. I wasn't the only one going through the headaches or Puppy's behaviors. Now I knew that much more about how to share; and with sharing came experiences from new friends and families and I, myself was sharing my life and my life with Puppy.