I recently read a letter penned to ‘the future’ by the father of an autistic child. In this letter, the father expressed profound anxiety about his son’s future despite his considerable efforts to prepare him for it: “We’re waiting for you… the future. I’m sending you my child whether you like it or not… for better or worse. My name will be called soon and my child will be needing you. So I’m needing you right now. Please be ready.” Worrying is counterproductive–it drains our energy, kills motivation, and it drags our children down with us. I know how difficult it is to simply “turn off” an emotion however, so in this posting, my goal is to gift you with a new mindset in the aim of preventing any worrying in the first place.
1. REASSURE YOURSELF — YOUR KID IS ALREADY A CHAMPION
Remind yourself as well. To get here, he beat hundreds of millions of other determined competitors in a marathon race to an egg, and won! He arrived here with the tenacity, endurance, speed, determination and power of a champion, and it’s your job to make sure he maintains these qualities so that he may go on to win the next race; a race of his choosing.
2. GIVE THE CAPTAIN A DESTINATION
Imagine your child’s future as a journey on a sailing ship captained by you, the parent. You teach the child about ship maintenance, seafaring and navigation so they can someday become captain of their own ship. Shouldn’t we help them to find a destination as well? Life can be a raging storm where survival depends more upon strength of spirit than learned skills. Having a dream on the horizon gives us the necessary ‘fight’ to see us through these storms, and makes the calm days far more pleasant and fulfilling. For me, having a dream, an inspiration, or something to look forward to is the wind in my sails, so without them, my ship would be reduced to no more than a life raft, drifting aimlessly without power or momentum, at the mercy of the elements. We need to plant seeds of love, wonder, and purpose in our children to give them a reason to truly live, and not just survive. The journey should also be broken up into waypoints in the form of mini-vacations, enrichment activities, field trips, meetings with mentors, etc, that are specifically conceived to further our interest in, and deepen our commitment to our long-term goals.
3. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF/PRIORITIZE/BECOME SELFISH
Parents of children with autism, you’ve been tasked with a noble mission, full of unique challenges, in an environment that can appear to offer little sustenance. Your greatest source of strength is yourself and your most powerful tools are your mind and body which serve you as you serve them. The quality and quantity of your energy is directly linked to the level of diet, sleep and exercise that you maintain. Dedication to spiritual well-being is equally important. How can we help maintain our spirit? Try this: before going to bed, when the sky is clear, go outside and look up at the stars. This is where we come from, and where we really exist. We’re not stuck our little town, we’re rotating around the outer edge of our galaxy, the Milky Way, in a universe filled with hundreds of billions of other galaxies—we’re free. Out there, there is no worry, no discouraging talk, no doubt and no fear. Out there is just pure potentiality. So after looking up at the stars for a while, go inside, kneel down beside your bed in your dark bedroom, put your head down and hands together and pray out loud. This prayer has nothing to do with religion, though it can if you wish it to. Praying to a God will put you in touch with your own ‘center of all creation’ and will plant the seed that will start to imperceptibly guide your actions or ‘trim your sails’ to reach the destination you desire.
4. LET THEM GO
They’re already a champion, you’ve taught them, helped them to find a beautiful destination, and their wind has filled their sails, so they’re ready to go! Set them to sail with the assurance that your love is unconditional, and that your guiding spirit will always be there for them.
And don’t worry so much—you’re not throwing them into heavy traffic. You’re setting them to sail.
Take a look at the two paintings by Mary Cassat that I’ve provided, and note where the parent’s gaze is directed in relation to that of the child. And read this poem by one of my favorite writers, Kahlil Gibran.
I think it should more effectively communicate what I wish to say.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.