In the latest of my series of guest posts, Alison Lobron shares her thoughts about how mindfulness has impacted her relationship with her autistic son.
My son is five years old. Gabe is silly, energetic, creative, and he adores anything involving geography, outer space, or weird noises. He is loving and joyful, and he has autism. Parenting a child with special needs presents its fair share of challenges. My son was late meeting all of his developmental milestones. Gabe needs months of direct instruction to master skills that come naturally to typically developing children. He has the vocabulary of a ten year old, but often lacks the ability to communicate very basic information. He has a host of medical complications known to be common among autistic children.
When Gabe was first diagnosed with autism, I worked my way painfully through every negative feeling possible. Guilt, anger, frustration, fear and worry were a regular part of my emotional landscape. My present life still includes all of these negative emotions. However, practicing mindfulness has helped me to parent in a way that acknowledges these feelings without allowing them to crowd out the wonderful gifts that are part and parcel of being Gabe’s mom.
Over the past few years, I’ve been working on becoming a more mindful parent. I wanted to experience my life as it is unfolding, but I often found myself weighted down by worry and fear. Now I recognize that anxiety, apprehension and worry can serve a function. I push myself to get the next therapy Gabe needs, to find a different doctor, one who “gets it”, to persist in a conversation with my son’s teacher if there is something he needs that he is not getting. Worry is one of main motivators behind each of these actions.
Worry and anxiety have their place, but through my developing practice of mindfulness, I have come to realize the price they exact when given more than their share of attention. When the tape of worry and fear was playing a constant loop in the background of my mind, I often missed out of the beauty of the present moment. Practicing mindfulness has helped me learn how to acknowledge the presence of a given emotion, then purposefully choose to let the feeling go.
After a year of physical therapy, my son took his first wobbly steps two months before his second birthday. The anxious voices clamored. “Why so late?” The chorus of worry and fear demanded. “Will he ever run? Jump? Climb up stairs? Does he need longer therapy sessions? More intense?” And then, I forced myself to take a breath, turn down the volume on the worry, and turn up the volume on the other emotions. “Look at that, my boy is walking! Come here! You can do it! Walk to mommy! I’m so PROUD of you!!!!!!” The steps were small. They came so late. But, he was doing it. And I was proud, joyful, adoring, and so in love with my beautiful boy.
My child has autism. His life is going to be different from what I envisioned when he first came into my life. I am going to need every ounce of fierce mommy protection that I can muster. And so I am grateful for the peace that I am achieving, slowly over time. I have sat with the negative emotions, the mountains of uncertainties and seemingly insurmountable fears. Now I find that I am able to say to my worries, “Okay. I’ve heard you. I know you are here.” I am more and more able to turn down the volume on the worry, and listen to the joy.
Alison Lobron is a wife, teacher and mom living in Newton, MA. She works in the field of children’s social and emotional development. Alison is the creator of the blog The View Through Autism Glasses, in which she writes about lessons she is learning while parenting her two very different children.