Special needs parenting: 3 reasons I parent differently

Miriam Gwynne by Miriam Gwynne Additional Needs

Miriam Gwynne

Miriam Gwynne

Full time mum and carer for two truly wonderful autistic twins. I love reading, writing, walking, swimming and encouraging others. Don’t struggle a...

Special needs parenting: 3 reasons I parent differently

I have had over 12 years of professionals involved with my children.

I’ve been criticised from everything from child lead feeding to not enough tummy time, to fighting for special needs schooling to having too many toys in my living room, but the one that consistently crops up time and time again is the way I discipline my son.

I didn’t set out to be controversial, I rarely raise my voice and there isn’t ever physical punishment.

So what do I do that causes so many professionals (and much of the general public) to feel I am wrong in how I raise my non speaking autistic son?

Well many would say he controls me, some argue he controls the full household, and it appears to many that he always gets his own way.

I do parent differently but that’s because I have a different child to everyone else.

Firstly his behaviour is communication:

When he refuses to go into a certain shop and I acknowledge that by not taking him in I am respecting the fact he is communicating to me that for whatever reason going there is too much for him.

Maybe it’s too bright, or too dark, too loud, too busy, it smells unusual or it’s too cold.

Making him go in might seem on the surface to others I am teaching him obedience and that he can’t always get his own way but actually it’s teaching him that his feelings and communication don’t matter and that consent is meaningless.

As a vulnerable child who will at some point have others look after him without me there I need him to know that if he is uncomfortable and he communicates that someone will listen. That starts with me listening as his mum.

Secondly his need for control is anxiety driven:

When you don’t understand everything that happens around you and to you you can feel disorientated and frustrated.

Feeling out of control breeds anxiety in us all and my child is no different.

Routine is everything to him and allowing him to have a bath when he’s ready (even if that’s 1:30 in the afternoon) or wear what he wants isn’t about having him control me but about lessening his anxiety so that he is calm, settled and happy.

Giving him choices makes him feel respected and included and means he eats better, feels better and in turn the entire family are more at peace.

Thirdly I am meeting his needs not wants:

I don’t have a child who throws a temper in a toy shop because I won’t buy him a certain toy but he will scream if I happen to walk past a shop with a lift and he doesn’t get to see it.

The difference is that lifts are in fact meeting a huge sensory need that has to be fulfilled.

It’s like someone who has to run daily or a dog who requires a daily walk.

No-one would say walking a dog everyday was spoiling it and likewise meeting my son’s sensory needs is not spoiling him but meeting a very high need he has in order to stay healthy and happy.

For me that means allowing him to be noisy (he can’t speak but he can sure make noise!), allowing him to move about lots and letting him line toys on his bed every night.

It means many lifts visits, walking daily and a bath every single night.

My child doesn’t act like a 12 year old because developmentally he isn’t 12 in any way. I need to parent him according to his needs and understanding and in a way that works for our family.

It’s easy to be judgemental of other’s parenting. It’s especially easy to see a parent ‘give in’ to a child who is crying or screaming and assume they are a weak parent.

It’s too easy to tut and think, ‘I would never do that!’

But every child is different and there is always much more than meets the eye.

Maybe the child has a hidden disability, maybe they are neurodiverse or developmentally delayed.

Maybe the parent is actually respecting their child’s communication, meeting their sensory need, or trying to calm an anxious child.

Either way parents like me get more than enough judgement and misunderstanding from professionals as it is and we don’t need any more judgement from anyone else.

When you have a child who is different it means you need to parent differently too.

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