Autism can be tough—both for kids with the disorder who struggle to communicate, connect, and grow; and for the parents who work to provide them with opportunities, give them good care, and make each day as successful as possible. My husband and I have our ups and downs when it comes to parenting our non-verbal 7-year-old on the spectrum and his younger brother, and I've written recently about ways we make our marriage work and the important role dads play in raising a child with autism.
But ours is not the only model of a household with autism, and—thanks to excellent feedback from readers—I'd like to take a moment and praise single parents who are raising kids with autism and other disabilities. I know parenting with a partner is exhausting, and I can only imagine how much harder it is to do it alone. I get a taste of this when my husband goes away for a weekend, but the thought of 24/7 single parenting makes me break out in an anxious sweat. My husband and I trade off childcare responsibilities almost hourly, but my friends who are single parents often don't have the same luxury. They manage more stress, tougher choices, and more caregiving than any other group of parents I know— and most of them do it with inspiring grace, toughness, humor, and joy.
A study published in 2013 used qualitative research to show that single parents often become advocates and work to change perceptions of both autism and single parenthood. I see this so clearly in my friend Patti, a special educator and single mom to two sons on the spectrum. One of Patti's guiding principles is to stay positive, see the world with her boys, and do things that bring them all joy. Her Facebook feed is chock-full of pictures from their adventures—skiing in the winter, boating in the summer, going to ball games and concerts, and much, much more—and it's full of stories of how she's taken negative moments and turned them into advocacy. Certainly, she also shares some of her worries, daily struggles, and public misperceptions of her sons, but what's always present, even in these posts, is her fierce spirit and her gratitude for her boys and the joy they bring to her life. After a recent journey to Hawaii—she flew alone with the boys, rented a convertible, island hopped, and did loads of touristy things—Patti wrote this on her Facebook wall, as she dedicated a sweet Beatles songs to her sons: "...to the two people that have made this life a magnificent journey so far....with much more to come. Love you more than my heart ever thought possible...."
I tear up every time I read that, and I raise a toast to Patti, to my other friends who are raising kids without a partner's support, and all the other single parents out there. You're doing something amazing.
Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton
Image provided by Patti Moore