Editor’s Note – This article is from Kathleen Dolbee, a parent, educator, and ASNC Parent Advocate/Trainer. Kathleen can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year I attended a conference at Western Carolina University, a small conference, more like a class. At the request of the professors presenting, before beginning we took turns introducing ourselves and explaining briefly why we were there. Most of those attending were professionals, but a handful of parents attended also. As often happens, I fit into both categories. But right from the start the difference between those two perspectives was apparent, at least to me, and it reinforced in my mind the fact that I am and always will be, first and foremost, a parent. Let me explain.
Because professionals endeavor to be objective and are required to protect the confidentiality of their “client” or “consumer”, specific names are never mentioned. Not so with parents! Our children were the reason we were there in the first place and they had names, names we mentioned when introducing ourselves, names we gave them the day they were born. No claim or pretense of objectivity with parents, everything is personal.
The instructors were excellent, and there was no doubt that they were experts in their field. However, more than once it seemed clear to me that they did not “get it,” but in fairness, how could they? When one parent expressed concern about a safety issue, one instructor commented in an off-handed manner that all of us engaged in behavior that was somewhat risky when we were young and doing so is a normal part of life. I wanted to raise my hand and ask him to define “normal”, but I didn’t. Clearly, he viewed the parent as overprotective. He explained that growing up is dangerous for all kids; “Get over it”, he said. I wanted to scream, “You have no idea what I have already had to get over!” but I didn’t. Over the years I have learned that it is better to keep my mouth shut when my heart, rather than my brain, is doing the talking. Please understand, I am not disagreeing with the expert, only wishing he had better empathy skills, wishing he could understand the viewpoint of a parent whose child struggles with challenges day in and day out and does not need to learn any more lessons the hard way.
During the lunch break, I enjoyed listening as mothers exchanged funny stories that only another parent would laugh at. It is a different kind of sorority, I think, sisters because we met while traveling the same road. There is no need for a secret handshake or a membership card. We know who we are. We recognize each other by the expressions on our faces, like looking in a mirror.
So here’s to us! Whether you are still reeling from the blow of a new diagnosis and you are wondering if you will ever laugh again, we’ve been there. If you are fighting the fatigue felt by parents trying to supervise an impulsive child who never sleeps, we understand. If you’re trying to be strong, patient and logical, but your nerves are stretched to the limit, or your back to school optimism is being quickly replaced by panic, join the crowd. If you need to share your concerns, not because you expect quick answers, but because you need someone to validate your struggle and praise your efforts, give me a call.
For a complete list of Autism Society of North Carolina Parent Advocate/Trainers please click here.
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