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Being an Autistic Parent: An Intersection Most People Think Doesn’t Exist

Everyone knows that Autistic kids have parents. Very few people think those kids grow up to be Autistic Adults. Far fewer realize that those Autistic Adults can be parents like everyone else.

There are a lot of assumptions about disabled people regarding their abilities and about their relationships in society. Judy Heumann, revolutionary disability rights activist, spoke openly about the assumptions people make about romantic and intimate relationships for people with disabilities.

To this day this is still true for Autistic people.

Though we live full lives like anyone else, many think we cannot find love, get married, or have kids. There is nothing about being Autistic that prevents us from any of these aspects of life.

Of course, communication and other aspects of relationships are more complex for us when dealing with non-autistic people. This doesn’t mean that we cannot be with non-autistic people. Additionally, many Autistic people partner with other Autistic or Neurodivergent people due to the connection they feel to each other.

Some people think that Autistic people shouldn’t have kids (rather than can’t). Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, there are some Autistic people who individually wouldn’t make good partners or parents, but that is true of any neurotype. There are plenty of variations throughout humanity.

All of that said, parenting while being an Autistic adult is both rewarding and difficult. This is true for all parenting situations. Some of the pluses as an Autistic parent might be a challenge for non-autistic parents. Some of the challenges an Autistic parent struggles with may be second nature for non-autistic parents.

Autistic parents often have unique sensory needs, each one of us is different in how this applies. Some are sensory seeking, where stimming helps us self-regulate. Some are sensory avoiding due to hypersensitivities to certain sensory stimuli. Many of us have some of each in different areas of our senses. It also varies in intensity.

For Autistic parents who have sound sensitivity, sensory seeking kids (in their early years this is nearly all kids regardless of neurotype) can be too loud and cause us to become overstimulated. Neither the parent nor the child is wrong in this, just not aligned. Autistic parents are often able to mitigate this for themselves without impeding their children’s activities. Using sensory supportive items such as noise cancelling headphones can block out noise and prevent overstimulation, while sometimes sound reducing earplug devices can allow you to interact with others in your environment but decreases the extraneous sounds.

Autistic parents are often more accustomed to accommodating their kids individual needs. Whether they are Autistic or non-autistic, all kids need different accommodations to thrive. Some need to be extra active, more than others. Some need to avoid loud sounds. Some kids have food aversions. Others have texture aversions. Autistic parents often seek ways to accommodate their children’s unique needs, while many non-autistic parents do not find this a natural habit. This doesn’t mean that either parent type loves and cares for their kids better or worse, it is just a matter of how much effort parents need to use to accommodate their children. There are also differences in approaches.

Some non-autistic parents want to teach their children to assimilate to unwritten social norms. They have the best of intentions because they want to help their kids navigate the world safely and reduce their struggles. No parent wants their children to feel like an outsider. However, though unintentionally, this can lead to mental health issues because Autistic masking represses an entire individual’s being. Everything from personality to physical needs. This leads Autistic children to develop a mentality that who they are at their core is wrong (even if parents are loving and never treat them any less, simply having to mask to assimilate into society will cause this anyway). This causes many types of mental health issues over time. It also can lead to significant burnout because we all have limits to how much we can bottle ourselves up. Again, no parent wants this for their child, and none of them would cause this intentionally.

Sometimes Autistic parents have Autistic children who have the same sensory sensitivities and/or sensory seeking needs. Sometimes they are complete opposites. Some Autistic parents have non-autistic children. Some non-autistic parents have Autistic children. All of these combinations require a lot of individual variations to parenting styles and accommodations made for children and parents.

Many Autistic children struggle with sleep difficulties. Many of them are night owls. Some need extra sleep to thrive. This is true for Autistic adults as well. Sometimes there are solutions that can improve sleep habits. Sometimes the only thing that works is accepting the variation in sleep habits and compensating in other ways.

Many Autistic parents will be severely sleep deprived (more than the average non-autistic parent). This is something they carry with them everywhere, including the workplace. Accommodations that help alleviate this for them can help Autistic employees thrive in the workplace. Some options are a flexible schedule, allowing off-business-hours remote work that allows Autistics to hyperfocus when they have time and energy. Allowing Autistics to work in quiet sensory friendly work areas allows them to thrive whether rested or not. Each person is unique; find what works best for the individual.

Many non-autistic parents with Autistic children will feel overwhelmed with the differences in their neurotypes. This is completely valid, as long as they don’t vilify their children and still treat them with the love that they would any child of theirs.

We need to all be understanding of parents of any neurotype with children of any neurotype. Every situation is complex and challenging. Every parent will struggle from time to time. Every parent will thrive from time to time. Respect and be supportive of each individual in each of these situations.

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