An Autism Mom offers humorous advice for interpreting the facial expressions of parents with children who have Autism.
Every parent has "the look". You know the one. That look that freezes your offspring in their tracks and warns them to immediately stop talking, complaining, whining, crying, breathing...
But, when your child has autism, they may not understand "the look". Or any facial expression for that matter. My son had to be taught that when your mouth goes up it means you are happy and when you cry three tears you are sad... exactly three tears, mind you, because that was what it showed in the picture.
Oddly, many of us autism parents find that others cannot understand our facial expressions either.
If you are worried this could be you FEAR NOT! I have compiled this helpful (and hopefully humorous) guide to understanding the hidden meaning behind the facial expressions of autism parents.
No, my child does not need to be beaten
Let's start with the biggie.
An autism meltdown is NOT the same as a toddler tantrum. His brain is overloaded with stimuli and emotions and he can't cope. Anything can trigger it, he could be tired, your cologne may be overwhelming him, things are not where they should be, he submitted his math homework with one problem incomplete, the moon is in retrograde... only he knows. And his brain will not allow him to explain at the moment.
"Giving him a smack" will only make it worse. Soooooo much worse.
And for the record, I am not going to keep him locked away at home so you won't potentially witness a meltdown. He has autism not leprosy! Welcome to 2020!
If you see this face: RUN!!!
Yes, I have tried it... or would never try that.
Are you a board certified health professional who has examined my son and his health history? Then you are not qualified to give me medical advice. PERIOD.
I don't care if you best friend's second cousins' neighbors' dog groomer used XYZ and it worked wonders. Chances are I have already tried it or at least discussed it with his health provider.
If you see this face: gracefully change the subject to anything else.
Haven't seen it or read it.
I may be alone among my fellow autism parents, but I have not seen most television or movie portrayals of characters with autism. I saw Rain Man, once decades ago. M'eh, never was a huge Tom Cruise fan.
But if you start talking about Parenthood, The Big Bang Theory, or The Good Doctor, or any other more recent depictions in an attempt to relate to me I am at a loss.
Most of the time the last thing I want to do after dealing with autism all day is watch more about it.
Now if you want to talk about Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, let's dish!
If you see this face: again, feel free to change the subject.
No, he can't count cards in blackjack.
Stereotype much? If you have met one person with autism you have met one person with autism.
It is a spectrum of individuals all with unique talents and abilities. Sure there are some common characteristics, but not every person with autism has a photographic memory.
Although, my son does have the unique talent of being able to tell you the day of the week of any date in the recent past or future. "Your birthday is December 11? Hmmm, that will be a Friday this year."
If only we could find a way to profit from that my husband could retire.
If you see this face: ask what his interests or talents are or just change the subject.
There's tired and then there is autism tired
Ask any special needs parent what they want for themselves and I bet sleep is near the top of the list. The physical and emotional toll of coping with the needs of their child and the world at large is daunting.
My darling talks 24/7... yes including in his sleep. He thinks sleeping past 6 am is torture!
I get him into bed and asleep, which can take an hour of talking, clean up and get prepped for the next day then crawl into bed just to have my brain replay the day over and over. Rinse and repeat.
If you see this face: don't be offended if I yawn or doze off mid conversation, it's me not you.
I am overwhelmed.
This is my usual expression after a meltdown, parent teacher conference/IEP, or listening to YouTube videos of the calls of all Gen 6 Pokemon for the 10th time that day.
If you see this face: offer me chocolate and talk quietly about happy things.
I am about to lose it.
Like my son, sometimes the emotions are just too much. Sleep deprivation, IEPs, homework, therapies, meltdowns, worrying about the future... in a seemingly endless cycle can wear even a stoic like me.
If you see this face: the best way to help is let me get it out. Don't offer advice or platitudes (God gave him to you because you are so special!) just give me the space to let it out. Though a bit of chocolate always helps.
I hear someone in the back whispering "But, Audrey, those are all kind of obvious."
Yes. Yes they are.
Autism parents are not anything special, though we often deal with special issues. Treat us as you would anyone else, just like we ask you to treat our children.
If you can be anything, be kind.