Autism & being a working parent

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It’s World Autism Month.  This is a time for bringing awareness to many around the neuro-divergence, Autism.  Employers around the world are holding seminars and collecting for charity and discovering what support can be put in place for their employees whose lives are affected by Autism.  As a parent of an Autistic child, it has been amazing to see so many in the corporate world understand that they need to offer support to these families.

We often joke at our house that every month is Autism Awareness month as the needs of my child change as he grows to become a young man.  The support I need changes with his needs as well.  As working parents, my partner and I have had to navigate our careers whilst requiring that bit of extra support from our employers.  It isn’t daily support, but surgical support.

In the spirit of this, here are a few points we and our employers have learned over the years about supporting working parents of children with Autism.

We Work Hard

When things are difficult at home, going to work can be an escape from the chaos.  I say this with all the guilt and none of the guilt of a working parent at the same time.  Work provides a space where we need not be reactive and vigilant at all times.  It is a place where we can feel successful.  It is a place where we can finish a thought and remind ourselves that we are intelligent.  As such, we want to succeed in the one space in the world that feels like our own. 

We know that a time will come when we get a call from school or a child minder that says we need to come and care for our child who is struggling.  Because of this, we do our best to stay ahead of the game so that when we return, our employers often comment on our ability to compartmentalize and prioritize.  This has become a survival skill for us.

Sometimes We Need to Be Told to Take a Break

Parents of neuro-divergent children can run like a machine.  However, sometimes, the machine needs oil.  The “I can do this” attitude is a blessing and a curse.  One employer used to joke that he could always tell when my partner was stressed because he turned into a hyper-focused, head down automaton.  This seems great on the surface, but can lead to burnout very quickly.  At home, we don’t have the luxury of scheduled breaks and corporate retreats.  We know that at any moment, we will need to be an emotional regulator for a child that is under-resourced.  We are always on call.

The best supervisors know how to spot the difference between productivity and overloaded panic working.  They remind us of our lunch breaks and ask us into their offices for a chat.  They remind us to recharge our batteries and breathe.

Sometimes, Things Get Missed

Things are not always difficult to manage.  However, when we are in the middle of the storm, something gets dropped…every time.  It is usually a doctor’s appointment or a playdate for one of our neurotypical children or my poor mother’s birthday (it’s happened three times….sorry Mom).  However, sometimes it is something at work.  A meeting is missed or a deadline or component of a project.  I’ve missed incredibly important meetings due to just once thinking I could remember to write it down later because my brain is so full.  It’s embarrassing and horrible and, most importantly, not a reflection of my true ability to achieve.

The best supervisors and employers have been able to develop open lines of communication with us.  We have been able to trust them enough to tell them when we may need extra gentle reminders.  They do this without shaming us and in the spirit of support rather than a teacher telling off a naughty child.  They never shame or humiliate.  This is not to say that there are no consequences.  Rather, preventative measures are taken to ensure our success and natural consequences are fair and lacking of judgement.

Support Resources are Always Welcome

My partner likes to say that he is an expert on our child, not Autism.  As one profile does not look like any other, he is constantly looking for new and better information.  In each seminar he attends, he learns a new nugget of information or is reminded of something.  Every article, book and documentary helps to solidify his knowledge base and plant the seeds of new skillsets.

The best employers have provided support through seminars, parenting networks and private consultations so that he may access information and support from someone other than me.  They also provide an avenue to allow him to be an informed parent.  One supervisor used to send articles every now and again that he thought would be interesting.  As home can be so intense, we do not always have the time to find these resources ourselves.  Help and support in locating advice is always appreciated.

We Need to Talk About the Good Parts of Parenting

One thing any parent of a child with Autism will tell you is that the lows can be quite low.  However, the highs are even higher!  So much of talking about our child is around what he finds difficult.  Professionals offer support in the deficits, but often forget that there is a whole person there.  When my son makes a new friend, my heart leaps for joy.  His dry sense of humour can come out at the most inappropriate times and those stories are hilarious!  He also is so incredibly loyal to his siblings and takes the banner of being a big brother very seriously.  I want to share those stories…. not the stories of the meltdowns or the inability to see the point of poetry or the fact that he has to be reminded to wear deodorant.

The best employers and supervisors ask how our kids are doing without a look of pity.  There is no expectation of distress.  They are willing to listen if we need to speak about needing support, but they also provide a space for us to be proud parents of our amazing boy.  They know, just as we do, that there is a whole person there with a unique perspective on life that can be valued and celebrated.

If you would like to support employees with Autistic children, get in touch to find out about our session on this topic.

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