Guest blogger: Julie Hornok
Because I tend to want to look good myself, I often find myself expecting my kids to do what makes me look good to others. Sit still, be quiet, don’t talk too loud, smile nicely, fold your napkin in your lap, get good grades in school, and excel in your sport. This list goes on and on and on. When autism entered my family, I quickly realized that it was impossible for me to continue parenting with this mindset.
My daughter, Lizzie, was diagnosed with autism shortly after her second birthday. At that time, I began learning what made her different and what her needs were. The only problem was that her needs often conflicted with the social norm.
One day I decided to meet my husband for lunch with Lizzie. We ordered at the counter and then quickly sat at an open table as we waited for our food. Lizzie hadn’t been out of the house in weeks. Between her rigid therapy schedule and the fact that it was difficult to keep her from wandering, it was easier to just stay home.
Shortly after we got to our table, Lizzie stood up in the booth, gripped the edge and started jumping. At first it was just harmless little bounces. Then it turned into huge jumps where she appeared to be using all her strength to slam her feet as hard as she could down on that booth.
Table by table, the people around us took notice. First, they looked quizzically at Lizzie, then their eyes shifted to me. Scowling, it was as if they had words written across their foreheads telling me exactly what they thought: “I can’t believe that child is jumping in such a distracting manner….and in a restaurant!” “What is wrong with that kid….no, what is wrong with that mother? When is she going to make that little girl sit down?!”
Before long, I could feel all eyes burning on me. I appeared to be the careless mother that was ignoring her poorly behaved child, but in reality I was deciding how to handle this uncomfortable situation. I knew that Lizzie needed the pressure the jumping provided to regulate her sensory needs. I knew all the anxiety from going out of the house and the unpredictability of her new surroundings was getting to her. She would not understand why if I asked her to sit down, and if I physically forced her, it could bring on a massive tantrum.
But, manners in a restaurant, even a causal, order-at-the-counter one, were expected. It was somewhat distracting to others, and I didn’t like what I knew they were thinking about me. I had a choice to make. Was I going to parent what was best for my daughter or was I going to parent for others around me, so that I could appear as a “good mom” in their eyes?
I turned to Lizzie, and with a proud, confident voice, I said, “Good jumping, Lizzie!”
I could see mouths drop, and the judging eyes of disbelief around me. I thought I would be embarrassed. I thought I would want to block it all out, eat quickly and return to the safe haven of my home.
Instead a peace passed through me, and I felt joy. It was okay that the people around me, with their stares and their jaws gaping open, didn’t get it. The rules and expectations of typical parenting the world created no longer applied to me…and I could have some fun with this!
Julie Hornok is an author, speaker, event planner and advocate for autism. Her writing has appeared in Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, AutismSpot, Thrive Magazine, Literary Mama, Chicken Soup for the Soul series and many more. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, will be released in October 2018.