Question: I have two preschool-age daughters. My youngest was diagnosed with autism a year ago. Since the diagnosis, my mother-in-law has been treating the girls very differently, inviting only my oldest daughter to dance performances, holiday celebrations, movies, etc. She just called to invite her on a weekend getaway. I told her no, it wouldn’t be fair to my youngest daughter. I believe she is ashamed or embarrassed by my little girl. My husband doesn’t understand how his mom can be this way. I am this close to prohibiting my in-laws from seeing the children. My youngest is going to understand soon that she is being excluded from events. What do you think of this?
Answer: This question highlights the impact of an ASD diagnosis on the entire family dynamic. As frustrated and hurt as you may be as a mother and a daughter, this situation warrants the same approach we encourage our kids with ASD to utilize – perspective taking.
From the perspective of a parent of a child with ASD, you have probably grieved the diagnosis and what it changes. You love your child no differently, but you know your child is different and, as such, you must parent differently. As you know, different does not mean bad or good; different simply means that auto-pilot and relying what you know intuitively might no longer be options.
From a sibling’s perspective, difference is obvious. The child with ASD is treated differently, often “unfairly” as I’m told by observant brothers and sisters. More attention, more leeway, more help. A sibling of a child with ASD often feels like the “middle child.”
From a “why-would-my-mom-or-dad-do-this” parent perspective, you wonder why your parents treat your child differently. You feel “unfair!” or angry or disappointed or confused, which may push you backward toward feeling culpable or helpless.
From the grandparent perspective, you weren’t ready for this. ASD is new, confusing, frustrating. You want to learn but you are overwhelmed. You raised a child (or two) and you did it successfully, but what you know and you used do not work. Perhaps you make things worse. You feel incompetent at a job you thought you aced.
And so unravels the very support system that this child with ASD needs so dearly. Perhaps this situation illustrates so beautifully why perspective taking is so hard for our kids on the spectrum – my emotions dominate because I am too close and have so much invested. Fortunately for families, this closeness and connection is the tool to promote communication and competence.