Which side of the fence are you on?Believe it or not, even in the world of special needs, things can get pretty heated. When I first dove into this world (head first, no seat belt, WHAT A RIDE) and I was feeling my way around, I hoped to find a few parents I could get some advice from. You know, where to start? What I should do first? Find people like me so that I could get done what needed to get done? So I did what any other innocent parent would do. I joined a bunch of autism (and other special needs) parent groups, both online and In Real Life. And boy howdy, I didn't know what I was in for.
What I needed were parents who had "been there, done that." You don't get a manual with these kids, you know. No one has written, What to Expect, The Autistic Years and even if they did, it wouldn't apply. Autistic kids (like most kids with special needs) are like snowflakes: no two are alike. But even then, it would be nice if I could find someone who would at least tell me where to start. The doctors and therapists all say the same thing: "Congrats! He's disabled! Good luck!" At least they did back then.
So. Parent groups. I joined them. And at first it was okay. I got tons of practical advice, like READ EVERYTHING and DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH, which I did. I read everything I could get my hands on and talked it over with my husband. We found some advice that made sense to us and went to parent trainings to learn more about doing everything we could at home. We enrolled our sons in private therapy. And everything was peachy keen. Until I innocently asked questions on a few of the autism parent sites. Then the firestorm hit.
Perhaps I was naive, but I was under the impression that we're all kind of in this together. You know, like a village? That we should all share practical advice and not judge each other for our decisions? Yeah, I live in a fantasy world. I know. I thought the Mommy Wars I encountered on Natural Childbirth and Breastfeeding were tough. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for the hatred spewed forth on some of the autism websites (notice I said SOME. Not ALL). And I found the same on ADHD websites. And Apraxia. And other sites devoted to birth defects my sons were diagnosed with. It turns out there are Internet Trolls no matter where you go. Who knew?
Why is that? Why are other parents so judgemental? Why are there groups of parents preying on the hopes and fears of other parents, waiting to tear them down for making decisions that work for their families? To this day I cannot comprehend why folks just can't mind their own freaking business (Yeah, I said FREAKING. So there!) and let parents be. Whether it's breast versus bottle, co-sleeping versus cry-it-out, or biomed versus ABA, there are plenty of people waiting to tell you that you are damaging your child by sleeping with them (or harming them by letting them cry it out), that you are neglectful for not pumping them full of vitamins and supplements (or neglectful for trying it), or that you're potentially harming them by trying ABA (or you harm them by not doing it). And people wonder why new parents are so nervous and anxious sometimes. It's because we're constantly surrounded by a pack of wolves.
Here's the deal, yo. I know first hand how it feels to want to try ANYTHING to help your child. I'm embarrassed we tried some things and proud that we tried others. The most important thing, however, is that WE TRIED. Some of the choices were good ones. Some, well, not so much. My advice, to any parent of a newly diagnosed child, is this:
- Read everything you can. Even stuff you don't think you'd try or don't believe in. It's important to educate yourself on EVERYTHING that is out there. Don't overwhelm yourself, just try to get a representative sample. I think it's critical to understand where other people stand on their particular issue. It will help you understand where you stand yourself.
- Join parent groups. Yes! JOIN THEM. Honestly, they won't ALL suck. Just don't be so free with your opinions until you kinda know what you are talking about, mmkay? And beware of the snake oil salesmen. They just want your money.
- Get a gmail or yahoo account that is not your real name for the online parent groups. You know, so if you get those hateful, ignorant emails telling you that you are going to hell or that they are calling CPS on you. It may have happened to me. Okay, it TOTALLY happened and I was all, "Oooooh kaaaaaay. These people wouldn't know me if they tripped over me on the street but it's OK to tell me what to do with my kids?" but you have to remember, there are scary people out there on the Internets. And this goes without saying, but do NOT share too much personal information, mmkay? That's BAD. Just sayin'.
- DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET. Peeps, I cannot tell you how important this is. Ninety percent of what you read on the Internet is complete and utter BEE ESS. And, 93% of statistics are made up. Like that statistic. See my point? Right. Research. Do it. Carefully.
- Not everyone out there is bad. Yes, I know I sound like I'm contradicting myself. Sheesh, be patient. I'm trying to make a point! And the point is this: There ARE some awesome, helpful peeps out there, willing to help. You'll find the right ones for you.
- Do not let anyone make you feel like a bad, neglectful, horrible, irresponsible parent if you haven't tried XYZ and haven't remortgaged your house and spent your life savings. In fact, not remortgaging your house and saving money can be RESPONSIBLE. Who knew?
- END ALL MOMMY WARS. All of them. Can we do this, please? It's really a teensy request. We're all in this together, HONEST.
Of course, this was just MY experience. Yours may be different. But the point is, do what is best for your family. The heck with what anyone else thinks.
Image via Marj Hatzell