Helping me find hope

My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in June 2010.

I can still feel the blow to my stomach, the sick blocking my throat and the wall of tears that I had to contain until I got home and the kids were asleep. That night, I wailed silently. The next day I contained myself and went out to face life.

On the inside I carried my devastated self. On the outside, I carried on. I joined Tony Humphrey’s Parent Mentoring class in September 2010 and will graduate this year. I could not have survived if he had been as “unhelpful” as some people have said this week. I found compassion, understanding and unconditional support. But most of all, I found hope. When I stand inside the ASD box, when I read those books and their research I find no hope.

But with Tony’s course I found I didn’t have to be a perfect parent, just good enough (Winnicott). I found that Carl Rogers could hold me with “unconditional high regard” until I learned (and continue to learn) to do that for myself. I found that Bowlby attachment theory makes a lot of sense and so does the attunement work of Allan Shore. I learned that Robert Spitzer believed that “paying little attention to the context in which the symptoms occur may have medicalised the normal human experience of a significant number of people”. The Hanen course for parents of children with ASD scratched to surface — I got the opportunity to look at it from every angle and apply it to my story.

I learned that at that critical period when my child was learning to babble that I did not respond to him in a way that would encourage him at this sensitive period (I was rapturously enjoying the sentences that his sister had put together — all by her two-year-oldself) as I had access to the whole library at UCC. I accessed information old and new. I watched, I listened, I thought, I read. In the class, I brought up Asperger’s syndrome time and again and my very fragile self was met with compassion and thoughtful honesty. I learned that we are all, in fact, remarkable and ASD is a part of my family’s story — something to learn from because “pain is a path not a pathology”. I learned some things I already knew — parenting is the hardest job on the planet.

Tony’s assertion is that all parenting starts with self and it is the responsibility of parents to unconditionally love themselves because you can only give to your children that which you have to give. I didn’t even realise that I ought to, or even could, love myself too.

Patricia Barrett


Co Cork

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