Recently I have been wondering, just how much does the need for reciprocal affection affect our parenting style?
As a neurotypical person I’d say most of us strive to receive affection, to find a partner who will love us and show that love. How many of you get annoyed if your partner doesn’t buy you flowers on Valentine’s day? Or post on social media that they’re “in a relationship” with you?
As a neurotypical (NT) parent I, like any other, waited for kiddo’s first smile, his first giggle, the first time he wanted a cuddle and the first time he said “I love you” to me. The first 3 were all late. Everyday I prayed they would come. I still haven’t heard those words that will be like liquid gold when they first appear, if they ever do. But lately I have been evaluating just how selfish my own desires really are. Why do I feel like I have the right to expect these “milestones”? These wondrous moments that many parents talk about. I now realise that my poor child had these expectations placed on him before he was even conceived. How ridiculous is that?!
So I decided to open my eyes and listen with my heart. And now I see that my son says “I love you mum” every single day. Just because he does not speak those words doesn’t mean he doesn’t show me. When I first started blogging I wrote about how much I hoped that one day kiddo would say “I love you”. As of today that wish, that pressure I’m placing on him, has been forgotten. Because I’ve finally started listening with my eyes.
A deaf person cannot hear the words “I love you”, so people sign them. A non-verbal person cannot say these words, perhaps they sign them too? Or maybe, just maybe, they show you everyday in so many different ways and you miss it. Because you are so fixated on hearing or seeing a response that you would give to someone else. You believe that the only acceptable form of declaring love is in a way you would expect. It’s time to look deeper people…
Look deeper for ways your autistic child may show love. They may not say it or offer physical contact, but maybe they’re just happy to be in your presence. Maybe they show you their interest. Maybe they try and engage you in their play. As NT parents we absolutely must open our eyes to a whole different way of communicating. We must learn a language. It’s our responsibility to teach ourselves how to understand our beautiful children. Not change them to meet NT expectations.
But if we don’t notice them, if we miss those signs, we have no one to blame but ourselves. I so often hear about disappointments in an autistic child’s behaviour, that they don’t do what we expect or what we desire. But what about what they desire? If we miss those signs of love we are hurting them more than we realise. Just because they might not show an emotion does not mean they do not feel it. The child feels detached from the parents and the parents feel unloved by their child. It’s a dangerous cycle.
But you are the adult. This is your responsibility. Break the cycle and embrace new forms of love and affection. It’ll be the best thing you ever do.
Thanks for reading,