Summer can be a wonderful time for mothers of children with autism. A mother may have more time to play with her child. Sleeping issues may not be as difficult if a child does not need to be rushed out of bed and off to school in the morning. For us in the midwest, there is the whole wide and wonderfully warm outdoors to play in. Everyone may be getting more physical exercise, which is good for mind and body. Summer trips to new places, while a challenge in some ways, help many young children learn new communication skills, and that is exciting for everyone in the family. Summer is good in so many ways. But, summer can intensify family stress as well. One issue that can overwhelm the family is if a child with autism decides to stake an exclusive claim on mom.
About this time of year, when summer school programs are finished and school is still a month away, I begin to hear from some very stressed mothers who have been "claimed". It can happen at other times of the year, but summers seem like the most common time for a child to become obsessed with mom, staying close to her at all times, even trying to control details of her behavior. I don't want to wear a pony tail all the time but my daughter becomes distraught if I don't, one mother wails. I can't even go to the bathroom alone! another mother says. I just want to get dressed by myself! says another. I can't go anywhere or my child will scream for an hour --and even his dad can't console him! a third mother complains. I have heard these kinds of stories every year since I started working with children who have autism but I heard all of these particular stories just this week!
It is hard enough for mom if there is just too much togetherness, but it is overwhelming if a young child with autism becomes obsessed with telling mommy what to do. Fathers often point out that their son or daughter does not try to tell him what to do. This comment alone is enough to set an overwhelmed mother's teeth on edge. But the follow-up comment is what causes real depression or rage and that is when the father explains that he would never follow any unreasonable demand from a three year old. The implication is that the whole problem is actually mom's fault. Most grandparents and professionals, by-the-way, will side with dad, if consulted. After receiving advice from Dad alone or Grandma and Dad, or Grandma and Dad and a social worker, Mom usually feels much worse. She may try to untangle herself, "set clear boundries", and implement behavioral programs, but more times than not problem continues. Now, her failure seems compounded.
You have to wonder, if you are an observant person and see the same issue come up over and over again, if there isn't something more that could be said or done to help mothers and their children through this. I am certain of one thing and that is that mothers need a lot of compassionate support to get through the Mom is Mine! issue.
Some of the things that I have suggested to mothers over the years have helped, but it is easy to underestimate both the tenacity of a child with autism and the psychological complexity of this issue from the mother's point of view. As a Speech Language Pathologist, I know that I feel ill-prepared to support mothers fully through this issue. Perhaps someone will leave a comment below with some sage advice. I go back to work next week and will pass on any words of wisdom.