As a parent of a child with autism, I am shy to admit that I don’t read too many posts about autism – not anymore. When we first got our son’s diagnosis, I went full-steam into research, support groups, list-serves, conferences, books, blogs and anything else I could get my hands on. I tried to become an expert about many things related to autism in my attempt to understand my child, his potential for the future and our best chances for coping with and embracing his unique set of challenges.
But after awhile, I felt like I had heard it all, or I just got tired of living my life around autism 24/7. Many of the articles that come across my desktop now only receive a cursory glance. One post a few months back, though, happened to grab me at a rare free moment. I came across one of Tom Fields-Meyer‘s beautiful essays about his experiences raising his son – a teenager who has so many similarities to my kid that I found the piece at once reassuring and unsettling.
Hidden among the comments from other parents and professionals praising Fields-Meyer for his engaging and insightful glimpse into the life of parenting a child with autism was this little note: “After article after article about autisium [sic], its like articles on writing a resume—ENOUGH”
As much as I was irritated by this commenter’s disregard for the complexities of special needs parenting that go way beyond resume writing…secretly I agreed. Yes! Enough autism already! Every time I turn around, another parent [or person on the spectrum] has written a fabulous book or a witty blog or amassed a huge following for their mesmerizing presentations at nationwide conferences. I was initially inspired and educated by these people, but part of me wanted them to stop writing their lives, so I could write mine.
See, I remember a time when I was convinced that I could never become a great artist because my life was too “nice.” Everywhere I looked for inspiration, there were writers, artists and performers who brought to their art a wealth of really awful life experiences that gave their work depth and realism. My boring life could never compete. In acting classes, I would struggle to come up with some “sense memory” to pull fear, anger, or despair out of my own life to connect with the character I was attempting to portray. I kept coming up blank. Nothing dramatic or even that complex had ever really happened to me, so the juicier roles appeared out of my reach.
I soon felt the same way about writing. Whenever I started to get an inkling that I might be a good writer, that I might have a knack for it (or that at least I enjoyed it), I would be reminded of brilliant writers – of fiction and nonfiction – whose lives were so messed up! They were so lucky – they had stories to tell, they had some serious baggage! Write what you know? I don’t know anything. Certainly not anything people would want to read about. At that time in my life, frankly, I’d had most things handed to me. School was relatively easy for me, I had close friends, my parents have been married for 45+ years, I married my high school sweetheart, etc, etc, yawn, yawn.
And then, around the time I turned 30, I hit the motherlode. Life really started happening. And when life happened, the only way I could seem to make sense of it was to write about it. Parenthood, financial stress, dysfunction, complications – Finally! Something I could use!
But you see the problem. I’m afraid that my most life-changing, blog-worthy baggage* is becoming so commonplace that it’s almost cliché.
Is this commenter correct that the market for reflections about autism and parenting has been over-saturated? Have I picked up my baggage too late and now I have to drag it to the curb by myself because the skycaps are too busy lugging around other peoples’ identical bags? Great.
Up to now, whenever I have felt the urge to write about the crazy, amusing, frustrating and inspiring moments that feature my kid, I’ve sent long emails to my friends: rants about schools, fears about the future, revelations about this kid who constantly amazes me. I have written advice to other parents and “I know you’ll relate to this one” tales on community boards, posted status updates and longer notes on Facebook, submitted a few articles for school newsletters, and drafted many other pieces that didn’t get posted anywhere.
I don’t know if our story is unique enough to be interesting, or universal enough to speak to any larger truths, but I’ve finally decided that it helps me to write about it and that is enough reason to give this blog thing a go. The joys and challenges of being my kid’s parent are complicated and intense – I need to write them down to understand them. And, I might as well store them all in one place.
I also reserve the right to blog about other things besides the parenting-a-child-with-autism thing – I know, it may be shocking, but I do have a few non-autism things that interest me…now, what were those?
So, if you care to read yet another blog from a parent with a kid on the spectrum, you might enjoy it. But, of course, you may also say, “Enough!” And, that’s ok too. We’ll see how this goes, huh?
* Disclaimer: I recognize that this is a selfish and potentially insulting way to frame my son’s disability, by describing it as my problem, as something that has happened to me, and for some, by describing autism as a disability at all. I don’t see my son as baggage, so please don’t get offended for him. The complications of parenting and navigating the world of autism are the baggage I claim, and just like many parents on the blogosphere who rant or rave about their children, I am directly affected by what happens to my kid. I can only write from my own perspective.