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Be the parent your child needs you to be

By Christine Denise

Autism Mom and Contributing Writer for As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments

Parenting for autism acceptance

I love horses.

Always have, ever since I was a little girl.

To me, they are majestic creatures.

And I couldn’t wait to introduce my son who has autism to my friend’s horse recently.

Introducing him to my world

We finally carved out some time to make it happen, although it wasn’t ideal.

It was already dark outside, so seeing if my son Louie would enjoy a ride was out of the question.

But I couldn’t wait to bring him near the horse to see what would happen, how he would react, how the horse would receive him and, of course, get a chance to pet the horse myself.

We set out in the darkness to the barn, putting headlamps on to guide our way through the field to the barn. Louie seemed not to mind the totally new experience.

When we got to the barn, my friend’s horse and the three others she boards eagerly greeted us, popping their giant heads through the openings of their stalls and extending their necks to try and smell whether we had brought them any treats.

We came armed with carrots, celery and a few horse cookies.

Introducing me to his world

My son, however, had different interests.

The dirt floor beneath him intrigued him. He sat down and ripped his hand away from mine to dig his hands into it, and, like he does with most new experiences, put it in his mouth to experience it.

The hay was irresistible to him, too.

My husband and I told him it wasn’t for eating.

And those horse cookies, you guessed it. When I looked around for the last one, I saw my son eating the last of it himself.

I picked him up a few times to bring him closer to the horses, but he didn’t want to be held.

Digging in the dirt was far more interesting to him.

We also had our two neurotypical children with us, and trying to keep track of what they were doing along with Louie was becoming too much.

My scene, not his

My husband told me quietly, “This isn’t working. I’m going to head back.”

I asked him to stay and told him I would just hold Louie – which now that he’s 50 pounds and 9 years old, that’s getting harder and harder to do for any extended period of time.

Then my husband said something that helped snap me back into reality: “This might be your scene, but it isn’t his scene.”

And he headed back to the house to clean up Louie while I stayed at the barn with our other children.

He was right.

Parenting for his needs

I was just trying too hard to parent Louie how I envisioned I would in that situation instead of being the parent he needed me to be in that moment. What he needed me to be was accepting of how he didn’t have any interest in the horses, instead of continuing to try to force it to happen.

It is a lesson that has helped me process so many of the moments we’ve had along this journey that don’t turn out the way we had envisioned them.

The more I realize how important it is to be the parent my son needs me to be instead of the parent I always thought I would be, the easier it is to handle all that comes with this diagnosis and the way of life it brings.

Before realizing this, I would take it so personally when moments I hyped up in my own head for my son turned out completely differently.

Now, I look at it as part of being the parent he needs me to be – even if it means horses aren’t his thing.

We haven’t given up on introducing Louie to horses. Next time, however, we know we need to make sure we can put him on the horse as soon as possible and maybe skip the barn tour part where he finds the hay and dirt irresistible.


Do you have questions about your child’s development? The team at As You Are provides diagnostic evaluations for kids 16 months to 10 years old via telehealth appointments.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This is a sponsored blog post, but all opinions are my own.

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