We all want the best for our children and that doesn’t change after receiving an autism diagnosis. In fact, many parents become very driven to do extraordinary things just so that their child with autism has a chance to thrive and grow to their fullest potential. These parents shift into a different mode. I’ve done it myself. I’ve seen other parents do it. And I’ve worked with my clients so that they can do it too.
What is this “different mode”?
I call it being “on point” but that’s just the New York City in me talking. Some of my clients have described it as “failure is not an option” or “go time” or “let’s get this done”. Whatever you call it most people can feel the energy rise…yes, it feels a little like adrenaline pumping through your veins but healing autism takes time and this “different mode” is something that needs to be sustained. Academics who study achievements and motivation call this high performance mode. Whatever you want to call it, it’s there. We parents shift into a different mode once we accept the autism diagnosis. We become advocates, teachers, therapists, negotiators, lawyers, and whatever other role we need to assume so that our child has a chance at a great life. This is when many of us become high performance special needs parents.
And a vision is where this all starts
It all starts with a vision. You have to get clarity on what you want for your child and have a vision. Yes, you want things to change but you need to focus on what you want, not what you’re going to lose. For example, a vision would be you and your child riding a carousal together. A vision is about what you want to create. It’s something that excites you. It has the power to pull you. The vision of having fun with your child will pull you and that pull is long term.
Let’s say you are resistant to having a vision and focus only on what you’re going to lose. This would be something like focusing on your child not having meltdowns anymore. Goodness, that feels heavy. It seems like a huge boulder that you are going to have to push. You’re going to have to push yourself everyday if this is what you focus one. Try not to do this. You will wear yourself out thinking like this.
So get clear. What's your vision? What do you want to do with your child that will actually have the power to pull you to achieve it?
But we are caregivers too
Many parents don’t see themselves in this role of a caregiver, especially when their child is young. We see ourselves as parents or parents of special needs children. I very rarely meet a parent who thinks of themselves as a caregiver but we are.
Recently, I spoke with Dr. Mark Hyman, a ten-time #1 NY Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He has a new book called Food: What the heck should I eat? This book is not specific for those with autism but I do recommend parents of those with autism read it because if you’ve shifted into a different parenting mode, one where you have a great vision for your child, then you will realize that your body is the instrument that you need to realize your vision.
Dr. Hyman says “One of the most important things for people who have a family member dealing with illness is to take care of themselves. Caregiving is a huge stress. You need to be in a high performance mode in order to take care of others and that really starts with food.”
This is where having a vision for your child is important. If you have a vision that is pulling you to achieve then caring for yourself seems like something you want to do so you can actually be there when your vision of you and your child having fun comes true. You can actually start making fun memories! If you don’t have a vision then caring for yourself seems like you need to follow a strict regimen a vitamins, depriving yourself of the joy of food, and grueling workouts so that you are fit. Who wants to do that? If you don’t have a vision for your child, you are pushing yourself to have good health and that takes a lot of effort.
So how do you start? According to Dr. Hyman “Food is the most import thing, more than anything, that will determine your health. More than exercise. More than sleep. More than just about anything.” So you’re probably wondering “what the heck should I eat?” And that is why I like Dr. Hyman’s new book Food: What the heck should I eat? There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about what food is good and what is bad. If you are ready to see your body as the instrument you need in order to realize your vision for your child, eating better is the best first step.
Be prepared to completely experience food differently. After a while, the comfort food that you might be using to soothe yourself now can seem to almost inhibit your vision for your child. “Food that is harmful that a lot of people don’t realize is comfort foods. Things with a lot of starch and sugar, like bread, rice, cereal, pasta, potatoes, processed food. These are all foods that are driving brain damage that make you fatigued, make your mood swing up and down, cause disease and these are the foods that we should be limiting or eliminating.” There’s nothing worse than seeing big changes in your child but you are too tired or grouchy to appreciate it or even join in. Your body is your instrument to realize your vision for your child. Begin to nourish it with great food, that is the best place to start.
The courage to do what’s needed
The courage to do what’s needed follows. Maybe you want a particular service at school? Maybe you want to stop seeing your doctor and find a better one? Maybe you want to put your child on a special diet? Maybe you want to do more than just ABA? When you have a vision for your child and you’re nourishing your body, the courage to take action flows easily. It might seem to others that you are taking more risks or bolder actions but to you everything you do seems logical and just feels right. You gain confidence with each step you take and that just fuels you even more. You committed to a vision, you nourish yourself, you gain courage to do what’s needed, and whatever capabilities you need to make your vision happen, just come to you. People start to see you as very confident but the secret is that confidence comes last. You didn’t start with confidence, you started with a vision and that vision has been pulling you forward ever since.
Efficiency is key
When you shift into this different mode of special needs parenting efficiency is key. You don’t waste time because your vision of having fun with your child pulls you. You do only what’s efficient. You constantly ask “What one thing can I do that will have pivotal results?” Autism is a systemic issue so you do things that benefit your child’s entire body. If doing one thing only improves one aspect of your child’s life, you don’t do it. You keep searching until you find one thing you can do that will impact all aspects of your child’s life. This is when people usually begin to say “Ohh you must be so tired from all the things you do?” And you think to yourself “I only do what makes sense.” There’s no wasted time second guessing yourself. You’re confident that you are doing the best you can and the change you see in your child is the proof.
And before you know it, you are actually experiencing that vision that was pulling you. You forget about autism and start doing the fun things with your child that you dreamed about. Before the diagnosis you had dreams of what parenting would be, you knew what fun things you wanted to do and now you are doing them. It’s possible. So are you ready to forget about autism and do the fun things with your child that you dreamed about?
A warm welcome to readers of Dr. Mark Hyman, it's good to see you here. It is an honor that Dr. Hyman shared this blog post on all his social media platforms! Thank you for being here. Should you wish to learn more about high performance autism parenting and the science of healing autism, don't forget to sign up below to receive more valuable information from me, Dr. Theresa Lyons.