When I was pregnant with J, I was almost finished with “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” the week he was born (minus all the chapters pertaining to stuff that would “never happen to me” that actually did. Oops.) I also subscribed to every baby magazine under the sun and soaked up any and all information I could online or any baby books that were highly recommended. I’d religiously read Parenting Magazine and make sure J’s milestones all matched correctly with what I was being told was appropriate. Reading for pleasure fell to the wayside – I was on a mission to piece together the perfect “How To Guide” on raising a child.
As J got older, I took the advice more seriously. Picky eater? I’d just have to keep offering the food and eventually he would take it. Not sleeping in his own bed? Continually walk him back to his room and make sure he knows he’s not allowed to sleep in your bed. Temper tantrums? Use time outs when he gets upset and he’ll be less likely to throw one again. Hitting his friends? Sounds like a lesson in empathy is sorely needed. I failed miserably at all of those rules; not because I couldn’t enforce them, but because with J, those same rules didn’t apply.
Despite my devotion to the magazine there were some questions I had month after month that weren’t being addressed. Why, at age 3, could he not use eating utensils? Why is it that the only way to calm him down from a severe temper tantrum was to apply pressure on specific areas of his body? Why, after months of doing so, would a weekend at his dad’s upset his routine so much that he’d consistently misbehave at school that following Monday? Why does he feel the need to detail every specific occurrence that he intends on happening that day before we leave the house? How could he handle insanely spicy foods at age 3 and could literally drink a cup of sweet and sour sauce? (It isn’t like this was an every day thing; promise!) Why was he able to keep up with his OCD mom’s disgusting organization of the toys in his room?
The heart-breaking truth? My son wasn’t like those kids in the magazine. My son was special and an exception to the rule. For so long I had forced the suggestions of those writers that I already knew it wasn’t for lack of trying that these issues weren’t being resolved. A few months ago, the magazine (which was rightly and extremely celebrated after the fact) dedicated a month where there was an article about autism and a cover featured a child with down-syndrome. I didn’t read the article. I knew I’d feel sorry for the families and the struggles they encountered, and move on. I was selectively choosing which rules would apply to J and which ones wouldn’t. I later thought that maybe I should have read it. Much like I should have read those few chapters in “What to Expect…” That magazine had been my handbook for long and I began to realize that I was following the wrong handbook.
Unfortunately, I subscribed for what appears to be a 47-year commitment. I get the magazine in the mail once a month and it sits, still in its plastic, untouched except for by the drinking glass I’ll set on it to keep my side table dry. I’m sure there’s still some amazingly awesome craft and snack ideas, but I’ve realized the rules don’t apply. After 4 years, you know what? There IS no handbook. Even without an SPD and Asperger’s diagnosis, there IS no handbook. You can’t compare apples to apples because all children, especially those who are going to grow up with these challenges, don’t know that they’re apples. They only know what you, as a parent, share with them. They only know you’re expectations and how you define them. After that, they try to fit what you’ve described as what they are supposed to be. The only handbook is the one that you write with the support of friends and family – not with the advice.
What little tidbits of knowledge are included in your handbook? Have you found any sources (other than the SPD Network!) where you are able to compare handbooks or get suggestions on chapters you may need to add or change?