A Mother’s Life
I remember my mother working day and night to take care of my Dad and me. She was a stay-at-home Mom, but she got up at 7:00 A.M. every day and cooked, cleaned and shopped when necessary, to provide us with a clean, stable home and good, nutritious meals. Although I know that she was tired, she did go to bed at a regular time every night. Our home ran on a pretty tight schedule. No matter how much most parents of autistic children try to achieve that ethereal goal, it almost always eludes them. While the child and Dad may be in the bed on time, quite often an exhausted Mother is burning the midnight oil, finishing tasks that fell to the wayside as she toiled endlessly trying to make life the best that it can be for her child. As a result, the Mothers of autistic children have unique health challenges. Remember, your child does need you, now and much longer than most kids need Mom. Taking care of yourself is also taking care of his/her future. And also, always remember, you are a person too. You matter.
I will frequently reiterate, this is MY experience. Yours may be different. This is not a complaint about how hard our lot in life is. We are blessed to have children who do not understand peer pressure like some other children do. For the most part, they simply don’t care what others think of them. That’s a good thing. While my son has highly social cousins who have spent a lot of time in jail and rehab due to their social behaviors, he has not. I know other parents who have autistic daughters who have not been in trouble with boys the way that some other girls have. Some things that a lot of other teenagers do, don’t make sense to many autistic kids. This article is not about how bad raising an autistic child is, it’s about taking care of yourself because it is difficult and presents unique challenges that can wear you down. No one can deny that truth.
As Lucas began to exhibit more and more autistic traits, I scoured the libraries for information that might help him. He’s 26, so there wasn’t much good information available at the time. I was a nurse when he was born and I chose to quit working outside the home and stay with him before I had any idea that he would be a little different from most other children. I didn’t have brothers and sisters and had never done much babysitting. I really knew very little about babies or toddlers, but I did know about autism. At first, I couldn’t believe what was unfolding before my eyes. Autism was not as common as it is now and it was unbelievable that my child was autistic. At first, I was a bit numb but soon came to see it as merely a word. The word had no power. What Lucas could NOT do was unimportant to me. It was what he COULD do that mattered. I labored endlessly to strengthen his God-Given skills, gifts and abilities. He was highly intelligent and creative. He took to the water like a duck. I took him to piano lessons and swimming lessons. I made sure he was in church all the time because church people had to be nice to him, (or so I thought…). I took positions in churches to facilitate his activities in them. I studied nutrition and exercise and psychology and autism. I was frantic and manic in my efforts to “pull him through”. I really believed that if I worked hard enough and prayed hard enough and advocated hard enough, that one day, he would “fly” and be merely a little odd like the “Absent Minded Professor” in the Disney movie. I know that most Mother’s of autistic children do the same thing and in all of this hard work, they fall apart. In “Medical Research Archives” of 2015, the statement is made that raising these children may impact maternal health. (1)
Life Goes On
Life and it’s hardships don’t stop or give you a break because you have a special needs child. I was in a terrible marriage and felt absolutely helpless to change it. I wanted to stay with Lucas and home school him to strengthen his already strong points and protect him from the horrible bullying in the local school system. He had cousins who had graduated from that school and it was so bad that even some teachers verbally bullied the kids. There was a special needs child who had been abused and that case was “swept under the carpet” but the parents found out anyway and it became quite the scandal. There was NO WAY I was going to subject my Son to that terrible environment. As a result, I ate to alleviate stress, and just for fun, because believe me, in that house there wasn’t much of that. My ex-husband and I argued almost every day and due to Lucas being literal minded, he didn’t tolerate silliness very well. I couldn’t even be silly when my ex-husband was gone. I had to be calm, quiet and orderly all the time and it was exhausting. I have always been a bit of a “cut-up”. I couldn’t do that…ever. The stress was suffocating. I gained weight and didn’t exercise until I started taking Lucas swimming and then I was in for a rude awakening when I had to buy an “old ladies swimsuit”. I was so sad, sad and tired, very, very tired. I stressed my way to a size 22. During this time, my Grandmother had a health crisis and I was the only family member that could or would stay with her. After 5 weeks in her home, on-duty 24 hours a day, I went home. I felt strange. My blood pressure was 220/120 and my pulse was 39. I should have been dead. I began to change my life THAT DAY.
This is an excerpt from the paper cited below. This is a PDF so if you find this link, it will download on your device. When you click the link, you will go to a page where this article is the 5th article down. Click on that to read the entire study. What the above is saying is that the mothers of children on the Autistic Spectrum without Intellectual Disability have poor health compared to other mothers. We, and in some cases, other Mother’s that have children with ID also, are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease. We have poorer antibody response, so we have lowered immunity. We have more asthma, back problems and headaches. We have more obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. To top it all off, we have more hot “flashes”. This paper is based on 60 other scholarly articles. There is no getting away from the fact that raising our children exacts a price.
You’re In Charge
As scary as this is, there is a remedy. You have to prioritize your health. The day that I found myself almost dead, I joined the YMCA and started swimming 2 hours a day, 5-7 days per week. Lucas and I began to bowl. Instead of just “going to the playground”, I found parks with walking tracks and we walked the track. It was also good for him. Previously, although I was always finding activities for us to do, I wasn’t prioritizing exercise. That changed. We both lost weight. Due to the stress in our household and the sedentary lifestyle that we were living, Lucas was also obese.
David has a saying, “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” and no truer words have ever been spoken. Until the revelation that I was eating myself into an early grave and bound to leave Lucas at the mercy of the world, I kept Little Debbie Snack Cakes all the time. I kept them in a fridge on my enclosed back porch, thinking that it would discourage me from eating them…wrong. It was a short trip to my back porch and I made that trip frequently. I got no support from my ex-husband to lose weight, and he insisted that I continue to buy those snack cakes, so I bought just enough to put in his lunchbox that I made for him every night. When my beloved Grandmother would call and ask me if I wanted the cake that she had just taken out of the oven, I said “No.” She would bake the cake, eat one piece and give it to us up until I began to refuse. She was showing love to us but it wasn’t good for any of us so I stopped it. Here at David’s Way, we provide you with healthy recipes for almost any food that you might like. Just go to the search box on the Home Page and search for whatever you want. You can also contact us through the Contact Button to request a special recipe and we will help you find what you’re looking for. Your life is in your hands. Choose your food wisely.
Another tenet of David’s Way is “Make Your World Small.” (David Yochim) This simply means to remove negative people from your world. As the Mother of an autistic child, I can testify, everyone is not sympathetic to your plight. If they are not supportive, drop them. Move on. Get over it. Your life will be better and so will your child’s. Those kinds of people will make you unhealthy as you try to move Heaven and Earth to please them. There is a special freedom that comes when you separate yourself from negativism.
While the challenges that face the Mother’s of autistic children are unique, you can navigate these treacherous waters with finesse. My Son is 26 and moderately autistic. I am 63 and work full-time and lift heavy weights and abstain from sugar and other unhealthy foods. I count my calories, carbs and protein and make my nutrition my first priority. I am frequently the one who is called upon when there is a physical challenge at work. I am happier today than at any other point in my life after many years of psychological abuse by more than one family member. I increased my workout today, adding extra squats and David’s “Burpees from Hell” to my routine and walked my dogs after an hour and a half of my regular weight lifting routine. You can take care of yourself if you make it a priority and if you have an autistic child, it is a priority. Take care.