Last week, I sat on yet anther couch and prepared myself for whatever the therapist had to say. She has been working with my son for a few months, I am not involved at all in their sessions. (This is social skills therapy and apparently, mommas aren’t really helpful… I mean he’s almost twelve years old. I get it.)
So as I have sat in the waiting room on a different couch, this therapist has been getting to know my son. For more than two months, she has been sitting on bean bags with him and asking him questions about his life. She has been playing Battleship and Chess with him as a way to discover how he learns and perceives his world. And up until this meeting, she has said absolutely nothing about what she thinks.
And I am freaking out.
All week-long I have been thinking about all the ways she will likely tell me I am doing this wrong. That the decisions I make in the moment, with very little knowledge, are not helping him.
What I am expecting to hear is that I am spoiling him. What I am sure she will say is that I am too soft, too enabling, and too mothering. I am confident she will question how we educate, medicate, and communicate with him. And I can already feel the shame creeping in, as I think about her questioning his media time, obsession with Minecraft, and lack of exercise.
I am not sure how or when this first started. I think it was likely the time I was told that I was hysterical and overreacting at his three-week old well baby check up. But this message of shame and guilt has followed me for almost twelve years now. The image I have of myself is that I am the mom who spoils her kids. It comes from being accused, out loud and by multiple sources, of being the mom who spoils her kids.
When I didn’t let him cry it out (because he didn’t ever actually fall asleep when I tried – he just screamed and screamed for hours), I was that mom.
When I allowed him to go to school in crocs instead of socks and shoes, I was that mom.
When I didn’t force him to eat what had been prepared for everyone else, I was that mom.
After my son’s diagnosis though, everything changed. No one questioned my decisions anymore. In fact, they affirmed them. My oldest and dearest friend actually had the grace and humility to apologize to me for not understanding before.
It doesn’t matter. I still fight so many feelings of shame and insecurity about what I “allow” my son to get away with.
And I know many of you do too.
The #1 question I have received in the past few months from other moms is, “Do you think I am spoiling my child by allowing <fill in the blank>?”
Am I Spoiling My Child Or Accommodating His Special Needs?
Is it accommodating him to let him use a calculator instead of memorizing the multiplication tables?
Is it spoiling him to let him go to his room when the noise is too much, instead of eating at the table like the rest of us?
Is it accommodating him to allow him more access to media because he uses it to research and perseverate?
Is it spoiling him to not require him to wear pants instead of shorts, ever, no matter what the weather?
If you read the sentences above, you can interchange spoiling and accommodation in every single one. It’s a fine line… a very fine line.
A line that is difficult to discern even when you are the person closest to the child in question.
So, you understand my anxiety over sitting down with this doctor to discuss my son’s ability to live in this world, after her only being with him once a week for a couple of months.
To my complete disbelief, she affirmed the decisions we are making to accommodate our son. Not only that, she said she was impressed. She has worked with children and adults with autism for twelve years…the same number of years incidentally, that I have also unknowing been working with autism. She said she can see the positive impact our accommodations are having on my son and his self-image.
I was stunned. I think I might have sat there with my mouth wide open as she spoke. I was not prepared for it at all. I started to tear up a little and told her I thought she was going to say I babied him too much.
Her response is why I am writing this today.
I am sharing this, not because I think we have this all figured out.
I am sharing it because I think it is also true for your child. I think you need to hear it too.
Here is how she responded:
An accommodation is something that helps your child function as close to the level as possible of other children who do not have the same special needs. With autism, many accommodations are social accommodations, like not requiring him to eat at the table. Social accommodations are more likely to be perceived as spoiling because the need is not as obvious as the child requiring a wheelchair or hearing aids. Your child has clearly shown us that he needs help to function in certain situations. You are accommodating him so that he can interact with and engage in the world as much as possible. That is not spoiling him. That is helping him. That is being his mom.
If the decisions you make for your child are bringing him closer to the world, closer to emotional stability, and closer to functionality, you are not spoiling him. You are giving him the best possible shot at living his life.
If you have considered all of your options and know that something will help your child to just be a kid and get along in his environment, do it.
I am not an expert. I am not a doctor. I am just a momma, trying to figure this out.
And I am not spoiling my child.
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