Parenting a child on the spectrum can be a bumpy journey to travel. If you are a parent on the journey of advocating for your child, you must stay in the driver seat for the entire ride. Your child should be in the front seat, right along with you, to stay connected, read the road maps together, and navigate the crossroads. Along the way you will pick up passengers, but they should not drive from the back seat. You may pick up teachers, professionals, advocates, friends and relatives to join you on the journey. Some will come and go, and a few may stay for the full ride. These people can be valuable, if supportive. They should add strength and clarity to the journey, help you navigate during the fog and rain, and help you shovel out during the snow storms.
Your first priority is who you take on the ride with you! If the people you pick up on the way do not support you, and hinder your progress, drop them off. Let them walk! If they don’t make you stronger, they need to leave. Heavy baggage will only make the journey harder. They will try and take over the wheel, and steer you off the road. They may take the wrong way, and refuse to turn around when common sense points that you are getting lost. When you see this happening, pull over, let them out, and politely say “goodbye!” Save the space for an advocate that will be a working partner with you, rather than a thorn against you. Through this ride, you want the topics of conversations to be “positive”, strength based, not complaining, whining, and bickering. No fighting, just collaborating, seeing the positive, and relishing the gains.
For those who listen to you and your child, value your vision, and add to your journey, keep them on board. Most will not be able to stay forever, but their influence will provide valuable guidance throughout the journey. They have knowledge and experience that can be valuable for you and your child, but only you can be the driver of this ride. Only you understand, accept, and are totally committed to your child. You know the vulnerabilities, challenges, goals and dreams for you and your child, but they can help provide the framework for making it happen. Keep them on board as long as you can, and replace them with care. Treat them with respect, appreciate and value their opinions. We want people who may agree or disagree respectfully, but allow you to make the decisions. If you start to steer off course, you need honest companions to guide you back. You navigate together, share the experiences, and enjoy the triumphs. They help you navigate, but you continue to drive. When worn out and tired, pull of the side of the road and rest a while. Do not let them drive! When overwhelmed stop off at a rest area, take a breather, go for a short walk, regroup and collaborate. Talk it over; get on the same page, than move back on your journey.
As you start this journey you will feel overwhelmed, scared, and confused. You will know very little, but you do know your child. You will need these riders to help you navigate. However, with or without their support you will become more knowledgeable and stronger as the journey moves on. You will gain experience, read the road maps, listen to the opinions, ask for directions, and navigate the road blocks. When no one in the car has an answer, call an experienced friend; one who has taken this trip already. A friend, or another parent, who has lived this journey, followed this road many times, made the mistakes already and has more of the answers.
Stay in the driver seat, with your child right with you; the two of you navigating together, sharing the experiences, learning together, growing together, and getting stronger together. You want your child to learn “by driving with you”; learning by listening and observing, following your lead, and collaborating with you. Your child must learn how to read the maps, understand the signs, and navigate the cross roads. As he gets older he will need to take over the steering wheel, a little at a time, as his competence and confidence rise. You will both be in the front seat together, but this time with you in the passenger seat, and your child driving. You will still navigate together, share the experiences, and collaborate as usual. You will continue to grow together and become stronger together. You can look back at your riders, smile and share the enjoyment of the accomplishments, and most importantly thank them for their support. Without them this ride would have been a lot bumpier, and the costs much higher. You will look back and see all the wrong turns and misfortunes, but enjoy the fact that you made it through the journey! Everyone is stronger, happier, and looking more forward to the future.
Most importantly, realize it is a long journey, not a race. Take it slow, navigate with purpose, and take frequent breaks to clear you head, collaborate, and stay on course. As you are driving, take frequent opportunities to look over at your child and enjoy the ride. Smile, give fives, thumbs up and knuckles, and focus on the positives. You will find the ride much more enjoyable.