As the holiday season approached, I noted that a number of blog posts by special-needs parents focused on their anxieties about upcoming family gatherings. They didn't have garden-variety plaints -- "God I hope Uncle Ed doesn't drink too much again" or "If Grandma nags me about my weight, I'm gonna lose it". In blog after blog, I read about moms and dads girding their loins in preparation for the volleys of criticism that were about to be hurled at them about their parenting. I read about parents sending pre-emptive emails to relatives, and printing out fact sheets on their children's disabilities, hoping that they could get their families to understand why family gatherings are so difficult for their kids. Their angst was heartbreaking.
I'm lucky. My family has taken great pains to understand and accommodate my sons' autistic spectrum disorders and mental health challenges. At a recent holiday gathering, my son Taz (who has frontal lobe damage from seizures that renders him nearly devoid of impulse control) became anxious and began blurting out grotesque, completely inappropriate statements that totally mortified me. I began to apologize for his behavior when my mom held up her hand. "Don't worry," she said. "We know who Taz is. We know there's beauty in him. We get it." It took all the pressure off, and Taz eventually relaxed when he felt the embrace of my family's acceptance.
Even my wusband's family has become more tolerant over the years, something I never expected to happen. He took the boys to his sister's house on Christmas Day, and my older son Rocky didn't even say hello before going over to her TV and reconfiguring it for optimal video output (one of his autistic obsessions). The wusband cringed in embarrassment and angrily prompted Rocky to perform the expected social niceties. That's when my ex-sister-in-law, who has lectured us relentlessly about how remiss we are in teaching our sons proper manners, apologized to her brother, saying, "I'm sorry I didn't get it before. That's his autism, right?"
If your family doesn't support you now, take heart in knowing that there are people like my ex-sister-in-law who eventually "get it". And even if this never happens, know that there is a lot of support out there for you -- from friends, neighbors, and, of course, from all the Hopeful Parents in the blogosphere.
May 2010 bring you all the loving acceptance you need and deserve.