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When Your Autistic Kid Is Different: Is It Okay?

Our town held an Easter Egg party today. Of course, this being Boston, it’s snowing heavily, so the event was held inside. Hubby had offered to give me protected time so I could exercise and study, and I took that offer and ran with it. Literally, as he and the kids pulled out of the driveway, I went running.

I love running in inclement weather. I feel like a female Rocky Balboa. I had my high-energy music mix going, and I was running to the beat, feeling totally badass….

Then, Hubby called. “It’s not going so well,” he said, sounding defeated. Babyboy was refusing to even enter the hall where all the festivities were going on: face painting, arts and crafts, photos with the Easter Bunny. Instead, he was rolling around on the ground in the foyer. Some friends of ours who were there with their own child were watching Babygirl in the great hall, but Hubby felt bad about it.

I was about a mile and a half away… I suggested to Hubby that he grab some drawing paper and crayons and let Babyboy color in the hallway, and meantime, I ran over. I mean, I ran.

Yes, the place was loud and absolutely packed with families. With the heavy snowfall outside it felt like a crowded ski lodge on a school holiday weekend.

But, it wasn’t that big of a disaster. Babygirl and her little friend were having a great time; luckily, and thank God, his parents are good friends of ours and lovely people. Meantime, the ladies working the event in the foyer let Babyboy pick out a bunch of Easter eggs with prizes inside.

When Babygirl came out of the hall wearing cardboard ears and with her face painted bunny, Babyboy didn’t act sad. He wasn’t feeling left out. He got eggs with prizes.

When we left, Hubby said we should have known it wouldn’t go well for Babyboy, and maybe not brought him. My feeling was, he had an okay time, in his own way. So, he hung out in the foyer and did his own thing. He still left with eggs, and he didn’t seem upset.

We want him to become educated, employed, and a productive member of society. We want him to live up to his potential, and to be self-assured and happy.

Should we try harder to assimilate him, work towards more socialization, push his boundaries? If let him be on the periphery of parties, at the edges of events, will we be somehow stunting his development?

I believe we can only go so far with an autistic kid. He’s going to be different from most other kids. But if he’s happy, can we just let him be?

Interested to know what thoughts people have.

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9 replies »

  1. My older child wouldn’t have participated at that age, either. I have dear friends and some family members who would still probably prefer to hang out in the lobby over going into a crowded event. I don’t know enough about parenting kids with autism to know whether you need to push him extra and/or earlier compared to neurotypical kids, but if that’s not considered therapeutically necessary, you’ll probably all feel less stressed if you don’t push it. As adults, some of us are academics and archivists, and are happy to hang out mostly by ourselves, and some of us spend our days with customers or patients and thrive on constant interaction. In my community, I feel like there is quite a bit of pressure on kids to be well-rounded and flexible and good at everything so that every possibility is open to them. But for most of us, that’s kind of stressful and makes us feel like we’re constantly failing along some dimension. There are certainly minimum basic skills in each area, and if you get the advice that it’s therapeutically important to attend big events so that Babyboy will be able to have reasonable social skills, it makes sense to do it. Otherwise, you’ll make happy memories and happy kids hanging out in the lobby just as well as getting faces painted in the crowds.

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  2. Yes, yes it is okay for an autistic kid to be different. It is okay for ANY kid to be different; how is this even a question?

    Sorry if I’m snarky. But being coerced to live your life as someone you’re not is torture, and it’s also how autistic people have massive breakdowns and burnouts in midlife.

    Give him time to figure out where he fits in the world.

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    • Agreed, but we do need to teach him the skills to be able to function in his own future adult life. There are some practical things he needs to know… like, that he can’t roll around on floors whenever he likes, or bite his own toenails in public. I think hammering things like that home is not torture, but rather, sort of necessary.

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      • Yes, but…it’s necessary for ALL kids. It’s not uniquely necessary for autistic kids. All kids have to learn these things, and yet autistic (and other disabled) kids are held to an awful double standard when it comes to how acceptable major but harmless differences are.

        Lots of kids roll around on the floor. Lots of kids bite their toenails and do other gross things. My (non-autistic) brother sat naked in the middle of the road on occasion as a child; he’s now a pretty successful adult by typical standards.

        When it comes to non-autistic or non-disabled kids, practically no one is asking “but is it okay to be different?”

        It is okay to be different. Of course it’s okay to be different.

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  3. Absolutely okay. My older child would react the same way…he’s not on the spectrum but he is exceedingly reserved. We would still probably have taken him and given him the opportunity to engage if he wanted. There is no guidebook (oh, how many times I wish someone would just tell me what the ‘right’ thing to do is as a parent!). Just.keep.swimming

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  4. Completely OK. Necessary and beneficial. A friend of mine posted pics today of her 13 year-old son under the table at a family birthday party. He was having a fine time.

    He will need to learn to cope with situations that challenge him, including loud, noisy places. You can do that with the grocery store and the mall when you have the time to make it safe for him and allow him to enter into those experiences slowly. He had a good time. That’s the point of a party.

    My NT kid has always needed time to adjust to new situations, and that meant that we arrived to every birthday party a little bit early, so she could get the lay of the land before the chaos started. Every kid is different. You’re doing great.

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  5. Like others mentioned, I have a (presumed) neurotypical kid that would have done the same thing a couple of years ago. There are lots of events where one or the other of my boys needs to sit on the sidelines coloring or doing a puzzle because the noise/crowd/stimulation is too much—I am happy to join them because I feel the same way.
    I also don’t know about parenting autistic kids, and what is considered standard of care in terms of “pushing”, but to me, an event like this is very much optional. Even if you want him to eventually handle a big event like this, I’d think you’d start smaller and work your way up there. And if he WANTED to go, but couldn’t, that would be a different situation, too.
    In other words, I think you did the absolute right thing.

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