Our most recent homework assignment from our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) coordinator is to journal our strengths and weaknesses as guides to our autistic daughter. (The term “guide” is most easily explained as the person—usually a parent—who leads the child through life.) I’ve given this a lot of thought and talked to several other special needs parents about this issue.
When Rachel was little, I fell into a trap of pacification to keep peace. She didn’t like certain textures, so I didn’t force her to eat them. She didn’t like crowded places. I avoided them. She only ate Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets. I carted them to any restaurant where the rest of us wanted to eat. And then she didn’t like sitting at a table to wait for food. I stopped taking her out to eat. She was fussy during the night. I kept her quiet so the rest of the family could sleep.
What I wound up with were some major health problems from exhaustion and a family situation where we felt trapped. I believe RDI is helping us out of this trap, and one of the areas in which I have the most to learn is positive authority. I don’t have to be afraid to make Rachel upset. Some days, due to my health issues, I have little strength to deal with a tantrum, so I fall back into the old patterns. But as a whole, I am trying to take charge of the situation and move from a “child directed” approach to interactions to a “parent guided” system.
Being a positive authority has challenged me this last week, since a new school schedule started up. I’ve had to drag Rachel to class several days in a row, dropping toys, shoes, blankies, and clothes on our way. But I’ve stuck to my guns. I also left her in her room in the middle of the night when she kept banging to get out.
I don’t want to sound as if I’ve been a pushover. I haven’t. Ask my other child. But I have tried to take the easiest path and picked my battles … with the result of not wanting to pick many battles. Of course, after a 30-minute battle to get her into her car seat and making my other child tardy for school, one can understand why I wouldn’t want to fight another battle about leaving blankie in the car.
I have failed the most this week in my patience. Hormones and child rearing mix about as well as mud pies and fine china. I try to keep my voice even and positive, but today I caught myself sounding grouchy. I had to step back and take a breath. “It’s just a mess, after all. Carpet can be replaced.” (That’s what I tell myself every day.) I also took a nap earlier while the kids were at school, since I didn’t feel well, so at least that helped me think well enough to step back before I starting snorting like an angry buffalo.
As for my strengths, as this is part of the assignment, I would have to say that I keep trying. And I’m fun. I may cry about the carpet sometimes, but most of the time I do my best to get in the mud, play on the trampoline, sing songs, and allow family time to take precedence over cleaning up messes.
And my best parent strength of all is that I keep praying. And I pray specifically. Every morning before school, I pray with the girls. We pray for my eldest to respect her teachers and for her teachers to have wisdom and love for the kids. We pray for her friendships and that she would show Jesus’ love to others. We pray for Rachel’s current goals—to connect emotionally to others, to have a desire to communicate, and to go potty. We also pray for their daddy, and we pray for me. It’s one of my favorite times of the day.
Jennifer Dyer has an M.S. in Communications Disorders, which served her well in her professional career as a speech-language pathologist. Never did she imagine that her education and career were God’s way of preparing her to be a mom to her own daughter with autism. Today, she enjoys reaching out to other families who face similar diagnoses. As a cancer survivor, carpet-cleaning veteran, and originator of the “Messy House Ministry,” Jennifer feels blessed to share joy, peace, and humor with others facing life’s challenges. She is mom to two beautiful daughters and is thankful to be raising them, serving other families with unique needs, and using her gift of writing and speaking to minister to others. Jennifer is also the author of a youth fiction book series and is trusting God with His timing on publication. Jennifer has been a mom for 11 years. She and Brandon have been married for 13 years.