“Ellen, the information you share clarifies my many confusions, and sometimes give me light when I can’t see a way out of situation. I wish also to acquire the brain and calm like yours to understand my child and never let him down.”


In first and second grade, my son Connor had one of those exceptional teachers you remember all your life. So outstanding was she that when we left her classroom, I lamented, “What are we going to do? We’ve already had the best. It’s all downhill from here.” She replied, “Not true. There are many, many excellent teachers out there.”

It then happened that Connor segued from her classroom to a summer basketball camp whose instructor was, well, not an excellent teacher. A retired professional coach whose skills didn’t always transfer to children, he spoke roughly with the kids and made some of them feel bad about themselves. Connor, an unintimidated tower of 8-year-old outrage, scolded him, “Mrs. A. would never speak to us that way! You have a lot to learn about talking to children!”

Of course I repeated the conversation to Mrs. A. when school resumed. And although she was no longer Connor’s teacher, she sought him out to give one last piece of memorable advice. “You are going to meet thousands of people in your life,” she told him. “Some of them are going to disappoint you.”

We all know this is true. What’s hard to accept is that sometimes the person who disappoints our child is going to be us.

Dear, dear reader—you want to acquire “the brain and calm to understand my child and never let him down.” With your motivation, acquiring the knowledge and problem-solving skills to parent your child with autism is a given. Using that knowledge to bolster your parenting confidence and patience is probable. Believing that you can get to a place where you will never let your child down? Highly improbable—and I would argue that, painful as it can sometimes be to confront our human fallibility, being 100% available, strong and correct isn’t in the best interest of our children.

In my 2007 essay “What We Leave Unsaid,” I wrote

I made plenty of mistakes, put my all into things that didn’t work, really got to know what the ceiling above my bed looked like in the dark. Have hated myself more times than I can count; have never, ever hated them. Couldn’t forgive myself; found that my children were far more resilient and forgiving than I had any right to hope for.

Disappointment, forgiveness, resilience. The stronger the foundation of support and unconditional love you build under your child, the better he’ll be able to handle your occasional stumbles. Learning to deal with disappointment builds that resilience. It’s one of the most valuable life skills of all, and it only comes with experience. But just as valuable, your occasional shortfalls allow him to learn forgiveness, resolution and grace—thereby giving him the opportunity to demonstrate his unconditional love for you. You both need that.

The mother/father of all concerns for most of us autism parents is, what happens to our child after we’re gone? Building in our children the robust ability to roll with life’s punches is the best fortification we can give them, and ourselves, for this inevitability. Beginning to learn it within the safety of our love is an honorable start.

© 2014 Ellen Notbohm  www.ellennotbohm.com

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