When it comes to parenting Autism, I often like to reference the cup-full-cup-empty analogy. Aiden’s meltdowns aren’t an “attack” to me. Whenever it happens and how often it happens isn’t because I am not a good parent. Meltdowns happen because his sensory cup is full. And like a cup filled to the top, it won’t be able to take anything in anymore until it empties again. It has changed our lives. It has guided us and greatly improved our parental morale. It has also taught us to give Aiden the safe space he needs to “pour out” his cup.
I usually do a load of laundry on Thursday’s. Yesterday, after tidying the house, I was ready to load the washer. Well, I found the washer already full. Aiden had loaded it with his blankets and some clothes. Then, as soon as he saw me by it, he came rushing with a stuffed toy and then another stuffed toy, and another. He wanted to wash them all. I told him that it was enough and that the washer was full. I took out one of the blankets and thought to myself, “That ought to take care of it.” He watched carefully and happily as I turned it on, selected the heavy load setting and started the thing.
Laundry is one of his favorite chore. He pretty much knows our laundry schedule and when I break the routine (or try to), he’ll load the washer himself. Sometimes he’ll tell me, “clothes” and grab my hand to take me to the laundry room. Other times, he’ll just leave it be until I notice the filled washer. My son knows me. He knows I am bound to go inside the laundry room and see it. And he knows me enough (I think) that I won’t be able to let a washer full of clothes go undone once I have actually seen it.
I went about my day. Around 4 in the afternoon, I remembered the laundry. I asked the Hubby to load them on to the dryer. Hubby calls me to the laundry room. It is not done. It had an error. And of course, I had to endure my husband’s disapproving looks. He reminded me of my tendency to overload the washer. I laughed and I just said, “I even took out one of the blankets.” He shook his head. I went back to finish work and I heard the washer start to do its thing again.
About an hour or so later, I went to go load the clothes into the dryer. Well, it is not done. Machine error, yet again! As a matter of fact, it hasn’t moved past rinse. So I attempted to move the clothes around to loosen the space in between so the water can drain. Voila! It worked. The washer started to do its thing, yet again. I walked away to begin paying bills online.
About another hour later, I went to go load the clothes into the dryer. Oh my goodness! It is not done. Yes, another machine error and no, we still haven’t moved past rinse. By this time, I was annoyed. Annoyed at the circumstances. Not on the machine, not with myself, not with Aiden. Just annoyed at what was happening. I regrouped myself. It was almost 8 in the evening. I have to get past rinse before midnight.
I took out the 3 stuffed toys since they weren’t soaking wet and put them in the dryer. I turned the dryer on. I took out the blanket. Dripping wet, I walked it to the bathroom sink. Left it there. Ran the washer again only this time, with a much lighter load. I went on to do other things.
About 45 minutes later – the dryer beeped and the stuffed toys were dry. I gave them back to Aiden. He was happy. A few more minutes later – the washer beeped and I loaded the clothes in the dryer. Turned the dryer on. Went to the bathroom sink to get the blanket I had left there. Put it on to the washer to finish washing. And you’re going to think this is silly but I learned something new. Hubby taught me that I could pick up where I left off with the blanket. He showed me how to select the rinse part of the cycle. I was so relieved. I wasn’t starting over with the blanket. Phew! The rest of the night was a breeze. Laundry was done by around 10 in the evening. Yes, before midnight!
As an Autism parent, it can be very easy to blame our circumstances to Autism. And that because of Autism, we have to deal with things that we think we shouldn’t have to. On the most overwhelming of days, it can be difficult to see the real “why” behind situations and so we just sigh and say, “It IS because of Autism.”
I realized, similar to my child’s cup that has to empty when it’s full – My parenting is like dealing with an overloaded washer. I don’t necessarily have to empty it. I can try different ways to make room. Some ways are not going to work. I can regroup myself. I can unload a few pieces, set it aside to where they most fit at that moment and move on. I can go back to what I had set aside when the time is right and pick up where I left off.
Parenting Autism isn’t a one-size-fit-all. There isn’t a singular way to parent my child or handle certain situations. Most importantly, while my child is part of my circumstances (and so is Autism), he and his Autism aren’t the cause of my predicaments.
Happy World Autism Awareness Day! You and your child are part of an amazing journey.