The following post, Attachment Parenting and Autism, has been submitted by Amy as part of the AP Month 2009 blog carnival. If you are interested in participating in the carnival, view the AP Month 2009 blog carnival information post. If you’re like Amy and don’t have your own blog, you can email your submission to API and we will publish your post and include it in the carnival.
I didn’t choose AP as much as Daniel chose it for me. He was a relentless child, even in the womb, who moved, rolled, hiccuped constantly. I gave in 1/3 out of love, 2/3 out of sheer desperation and need for survival. He was only happy being held, so I held him. He would only sleep next to me, so I cuddled him. I breastfed at will and watched my son thrive. He weighed well over 11 lbs at only one month old!
He grew, beautiful and perfect. He hit milestones and we celebrated. He was very attached, as was I. I couldn’t stand to be without him. I grew weary of justifying it to the world; I truly enjoy the company of my child! We enjoy co-sleeping and breastfeeding.
I can’t tell you when he changed. Looking back, there is no particular “ah ha!” moment. I know that one day Daniel said “Hat!” and I rejoiced. It was our first new word in months. I began to notice that my child could say “hat” and little else. He moved constantly, always on the go. He was into everything and still would not talk. When his peers were making simple sentences and observations, we still only had “hat.” Words were slowly disappearing. We justified, blaming our recent moves, new baby and changes in routine.
No one ever mentioned the evil A word. I viewed it as an unspeakable curse. My son could not be autistic; he cuddled, hugged and smiled. But he avoided gazes, lined, stacked and wreaked all forms of hell in any environment and had unmanageable tantrums. After therapists, evaluations and a long list of doctors, my fears came to light and I learned that my beautiful son has autism.
So many things he did, and still does, are blamed on my parenting style. I was told for a year, as I searched desperately for answers that he would speak when I stopped hovering. I was told to stop meeting his needs, tune him out and make him ask. My radar was so strong I could anticipate his every need without his request. I was told constantly that he was bad and should be spanked. The pressure to physically and psychologically control my son was constant. Discipline through physical violence is the magic bullet theory of parenting. Somehow, spanking makes children eat, sleep and be quiet. Whipping can make a child stop crying. If they hit, hit them back, only harder.
Daniel’s behavior grew more and more erratic. We both became frustrated. I had no way to communicate with my son except through love. Cuddling, being close, kisses, rocking, calmed us both. During the darkest days, the strength of our attachment got us through in one piece. Knowing how well I know my son made me push even harder for answers. I often feel like the captain of a ship lost at sea. On a daily basis, it feels that I am struggling just to keep all of us safe and alive, navigating the responsibility and sorrow of having a child with autism.
Attachment principles have served us well. When he tantrums in public, I break out my trusty ring sling. At 40 lbs, he’s getting to be too much for my hip to handle, but it always works. The closeness calms him instantly. He loves to co-sleep and still insists on being rocked. We now understand that his sensory needs make it harder to fall asleep, that he truly needs to be rocked and it would have been cruel beyond words to leave him alone to cry it out. It would be easy to just give in, take the “firm hand” that so many books and doctors stress to me. But it would not work for us. I believe that he is as bright, friendly and cooperative as he is because of the gentle parenting he has received. He is a curious and trusting child because he learned early on that he could trust me.
Yesterday, we celebrated again as Daniel turned three. He is still the same wonderful little boy; beautiful, active and growing so big! Hearing him laugh and attempting to say a few words warms my heart beyond measure. Seeing the happiness on his face makes it all worth it. It makes me want to keep going, keep pushing, to help him be the best Daniel he can be.
I am unsure what the future holds for my son. He responds well to all his therapies but I know that he will always be a little different. I know the best thing I can do for him is to give him what he needs: kind, loving and respectful parenting.
Amy is a stay-at-home Mom to two little boys who loves sewing, scrapbooking, cooking and gardening. She is a member of Baton Rouge Attachment Parenting group and volunteers her time as a breastfeeding peer counselor.