Autism & compassion

Rachel McCumber


Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Compassion is a huge part of being a parent. Like every other area of parenting its importance is only exaggerated when parenting a child with special needs. While being a powerful tool, it has to be used carefully.

Do you remember what it was like to be the kid? I do. I remember that there was a lot of powerlessness in being the kid. Many decisions were made for me. Where to live, what food was available to me and what opportunities I could take advantage of were a few areas where I was limited in my ability to choose.

On a very hard day, when I catch myself frustrated and impatient, I will try to imagine what it is like to be Daniel. Since I was a lot like Daniel, this may be easier for me then for some parents out there.

I remember what it was like to not always understand the implied meaning of what those around me where talking about. I remember the distinct feeling that they were laughing at my expense but I really didn’t get what was so funny. I remember what it was like to struggle to communicate my thoughts. I remember how it felt when I was misunderstood and punished for or ridiculed for the perception of others.

I remember those sensations when I am feeling the cut of Daniel’s words when he lashes out in frustration. It helps me step back and not take his frustration so personally. It also helps me curb my own frustration. Compassion helps me give myself a taste of being Daniel. Tasting that sensation keeps me from resenting Daniel and seeing him as a searching and struggling child instead of malicious. Compassion help me be a better mother.

Compassion can undermine too. Compassion can trigger a guilt because it is hard for my child. That guilty feeling can weaken my resolve to hold the line with my son in ways that he needs me to hold the line. Compassion can make me feel so sorry for him that I try to make it easier by allowing him to take shortcuts to free time, video game time, etc. However, like letting an obese child eat whatever they what because you feel bad that they are being teased for their weight, compassion-prompted laxness re-enforces bad habits and ultimately only prolongs the struggle.

As a parent, my compassion must help me keep the perspective that we are on the same team, working towards the same goal. Instead of trying to compensate for how difficult it is through permissiveness, I must change my energy, my attitude toward my child and demonstrate gentle kindness in the struggle. I can channel my compassion effectively in these ways.

* Language: Speaking to my child with respect, even when he is disrespectful.

* Acknowledging the struggle: some times it is just important to stop for a second and say, “I know this is hard. I am not saying it will be easy. I am saying it is a struggle worth engaging in and that I am so proud of you that you haven’t quit.”

* Making small deposits: I think of my child’s emotional reserves like a bank account. Deposits are recognitions of progress, accomplishments, natural talents and expressions of affection, reminding them how important and special he is to me. Withdrawals are what is required when there is conflict or struggles. When going through a rough time, there aren’t many automatic deposits (my child seeing his own accomplishments and feeling proud) so I have to make conscious deposits. During quiet moments, I work to remind him of how far he have come, of the ways he is growing up and is integral to the family. I try to remind him of the ways he fills my life with joy. I try to remember to remind him of his natural magic, his natural talent. I try to never forget to say how much I love Daniel and how thankful I am that he is in my life. This is really hard during rough periods and takes a conscious effort.

Courtesy of Asperger Mom


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