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Autism & Mothering - What I've Learnt & What the Journey has Given Me

On 4th April it was Autism Awareness Day.  Years ago these days would have passed me by with little concern but over the last 8 years I have become more and more aware of the importance as my child has been diagnosed as being on the Autistic Spectrum.

It's the journey of being his mother that inspired this blog so I wanted to share a piece I wrote a while back about what I've gained from my amazing son.


Emotional and physical demands

Being a mother is emotionally and physically demanding. Being a mother when there are additional needs can be additionally challenging as you try to hold together someone else’s world, so they can feel safe in the ordinary day to day. 
Often those with asd require additional support with their emotions, which feel overwhelming and challenging to understand. 
My own experience was physical too,  particularly when my son was a toddler and physical expression was more available to him than verbal. 
The toughest days felt mentally and physically exhausting. The best days light and exhilarating. 


Routines 

Change is difficult for everyone to a certain degree and through being a mother I have learnt about my own challenges with change; the subtle discomfort and being unsettled. 
The compassion I feel for my son, for whom routine brings a sense of safety in the world is only increased. 
As someone who had a changeable life as an actress, the need to be able to get into a routine felt important for me too, so I could offer a solid base for family life. 
By routine I mean the natural rhymths we each bring, not a regimented schedule in a book (I am thinking of baby / toddler routine books here). 


Taking care of yourself & getting support 

This is a topic I am exploring more through Tranquil Birth, it took me several years to understand that in order to meet the needs of my children, mine had to be met first. I couldn’t give from an empty cup. 
Physical rest was important but my mental wellbeing was too, getting support with that was one of the best things I did and making myself a priority allowed me to be a more authentic mother. 
Parenting felt isolated at times, other parents didn’t seem to be experiencing the same challenges. 
I spoke to friends, professionals, mums and read - lots. Sorting my own reactions and personal challenges meant I could have the strength to genuinely help my kids. 

Listening deeply

I wasn’t a great listener before becoming a mother, I think because I hadn’t listened to myself or been listened to. One of the best things I ever heard from a speech and language therapist who was holding a communication workshop was to count silently to 10 after asking a child a question, to allow their processing time. Try it, it’s actually a good pause. It has supported me in giving my son space. Space to consider when emotions are high, space for me to safely hold those big feelings for him without reacting. 
Over the last few years I have continued to develop my listening skills, bringing in observation, compassion and holding space. It’s been the most rewarding development for me personally and in all my relationships. 

Having fun

This is something I didn’t too enough of as an overwhelmed new mother and everyone including my son felt the affects. 
When I started to take care of my needs I was able to relax more and ENJOY time with the kids. Laugh at the moments I had previously cried at. This doesn’t happen 24/7 but more often now and allowed us all to lighten the load & love our life together. 

Be yourself

This is for everyone. I want both my children to be free to be themselves and the best of themselves. I also want them to know they are safe and loved when things feel tough and they don’t feel their best. 
I realised I had to lead by example and be myself, my best and acknowledge times I am not. Then I am the person I feel comfortable with and this gives everyone the chance to do the same. 

Look forward not back

I spent a long time wondering if I could have done better for my son; if I had birthed him differently, fed him differently, maybe he wouldn’t have to struggle and feel the internal frustrations. So much energy was wasted on these thoughts about the past in the early years, as I was ridden with guilt. 
I then realised that the past is unchangeable but the future isn’t. I have the chance to have fun, listen and be the mum I want to be every day I am blessed to be with my son. Wasting time in the past was keeping me from doing this. 
Letting go of this heavy burden was a great gift to myself, my son & everyone around me. 
It meant I existed in the present and by relating to him with presence, gave him the chance to do the same. 
Children pick up on our subconscious thoughts, as these are subtlety acted out in our behaviour, even when we don't realise it.

A label isn’t defining 

I struggled a lot with whether or not I should as a mother pursue a diagnosis for someone else, something they would have to take ownership of but weren’t part of actioning. 
After a long deliberation I realised that this wasn’t a label and it didn’t define him. One day he may wish to let others know, he may not. It’s his and he will have ownership of it. In the meantime it allows access to further support and guidance, all of which can be helpful in the present. 

The Gifts are Big & I’m Grateful

I’m going to be honest, if someone had told me when I was pregnant that my child would be autistic, I would have been anxious. It’s wasn’t my expectation and my childless self wouldn’t have understood the journey of my heart, which means that I love both my children utterly and whole heartedly, there is no BUT. 
I can honestly say the gifts, love and wisdom that my son reflects to me have been amazing gifts and I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel blessed to be asked to reach inside myself and be a better listener, a more compassionate human being, a creative parent. By no means am I perfect, I am very much a work in progress but it’s a journey I’m proud to be on. 

Autism isn’t a type of person, it’s a word we use to try and describe the way some people are neurologically wired. 
Like everyone in the world, autistic people need love and acceptance for who they are, not because they are people with autism but because they are people . There is no difference in that respect. 

For more information check out The National Autistic Society

What is your understanding and relationship with Autism? What in life has offered you the opportunity to grow when you didn't expect it?

Sakina is the founder of Tranquil Birth and London Mum of 2 boys

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