Autistic parents are rarely acknowledged compared to autistic kids. In reality, there are far more resources for neurotypical parents with autistic children, which feeds into this concept that the world is far more accommodating towards neurotypical people. It’s no surprise that autistic mothers report having more depression and anxiety compared to neurotypical mothers.
I was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD at 27, one year after becoming a mother. I realize now that the reason I was able to discover that I am autistic is because motherhood entirely and utterly overwhelmed me and sent me into a state of constantly experiencing sensory overwhelm.
Once I became pregnant, my body and mind could no longer function solely for my needs and desires, and my unborn child’s life took precedence, which was a devastating shock. As much as I was looking forward to welcoming my child into this world, I hated the self-sacrifice I put myself through for nine months.
There is virtually no support available for autistic mothers, and little research is public to understand the experience of pregnancy and motherhood for autistic people. It is an upsetting reality for many autistic mothers, as we tend to experience pregnancy and motherhood with additional challenges.
My daughter is almost three years of age, and I’m still struggling with motherhood most of the time. Motherhood is the most demanding job, but being an attentive and caring mother often comes at the cost of my self-care.
Here are seven things that overwhelm me regularly as an autistic mother:
1. The constant ‘mum, mum, mummy!’
When I was pregnant and my daughter was a baby, I frequently fantasized about the moment my child would call me ‘mummy’ and ‘mum’. Once it happened, it never stopped, and it quickly became overwhelming. Having someone constantly demanding your attention is an overwhelming experience for an autistic person. Sometimes, I want to hide from her, but I quickly realize that she is reliant on me, and being a mother is a 24/7 job with no time off.
2. The constant noise
I always knew that kids were noisy, but I never knew how loud and consistent the noise would be. My daughter is two years old, and she cries at least once a day, is constantly singing ‘Baby Shark’, shrieks at the top of her voice, and talks from the moment she wakes up to the moment she is asleep.
But it’s not just her voice that is noisy; it’s the sounds of her toys, the sound of her falls, the sounds of her using the potty, and the sounds of her eating and drinking. Before she came into my life, my house was always silent as I love quiet, so getting used to the noise of kids has been an enormous adjustment. I struggle with the noise of being a mother, as it often results in migraines. Autistic people are sensitive to noise, which can result in shutdowns or meltdowns, so it’s always best to use noise-canceling headphones and take a break where possible.
3. The frequent cleaning
There are things everywhere, everything is out of place, and there are crumbs everywhere, no matter how much I hoover. Cleaning takes a significant amount of spoons, and as an autistic person, I am pretty sensitive to the different smells of cleaning products. I struggle with allowing the house to be a mess, but I’ve learned that cleaning up every time your kid makes a mess or moves around her toys is impractical. To help with this, I hired a cleaner who can do a deep clean once a week to take the pressure off so that I can reserve my spoons for the week.
4. Feeling like I’m not good enough
It’s hard not to compare myself to an able, neurotypical mother when there are no good examples of neurodivergent mothers. I often feel like I’m not a good enough mother because I’m unable to take my daughter to the play gym by myself, or I’m unable to put her to sleep as I take night-time medications that make me tired, or I am unable to breastfeed her because I desperately needed to take my medications. I regularly feel like a bad mother because I didn’t want to breastfeed her even if I could; I knew it would overstimulate me. Even though I know my child is happy and well-looked after and that I can meet her needs, the feeling of not feeling good enough because I am autistic never goes away.
5. Exhaustion from masking
I have to mask my needs, my raw emotions, and my autistic self to be able to be a mother. I can’t tell my daughter that I find some of her behaviors disgusting or that I don’t want to play with her. I can’t ask her to shower or make food because she’s a toddler and needs me. And so, to fulfill her needs, I mask and sacrifice my own needs to meet her needs and make her happy. I love being her mum and making her happy, but I am constantly exhausted from masking. One thing that helps me tackle this exhaustion is asking my partner for help whenever I need it so that I can take the time out to rest.
6. Struggling to cope with the unpredictability of parenting
As much as you can plan for your child’s day, week, and general milestones, unexpected curveballs will always be thrown your way. If my daughter is supposed to be at daycare during the work week, then I get accustomed to the idea that she is being looked after on these days throughout specific hours whilst I work. However, on multiple occasions, she’s been too unwell to go, or she’s been sent home as she’s got a fever, or the daycare is on holiday.
Kids can have nasty falls, be in the ER all day, or develop a new allergy or health condition. One day, they can’t live without their favorite soft toy, and the next day, they don’t want it anywhere near them! Kids are unpredictable, so they should be, but as an autistic person, I struggle to cope with the unpredictability of parenting.
7. Emotional regulation
I am choosing to ‘gentle-parent’ my kids because I was brought up via authoritarian parenting, and I don’t have good memories of my childhood. Gentle-parenting children often means consistently regulating your emotions and reactions no matter the situation. Through therapy, I have learned to understand my triggers and how to control my emotions over the years. As an autistic person, this is an additional challenge, as autistic people often struggle to regulate their nervous systems and emotions.
It is incredibly frustrating not to have the space to have a meltdown or control my emotions alone because I have a child who constantly depends on me. I’ve had many slip-ups, where I have lost my cool and have failed to regulate my emotions, and my child has seen me have one or two meltdowns. It’s essential to be very kind to yourself and understand that you can’t always be a perfect parent. It is tough to do this when you’re autistic and adequate support isn’t available.
I love my daughter very profoundly, and she is my favorite person. I am grateful; she is the biggest blessing God has ever gifted me, and by no means would I change it for the world. However, autistic mums exist, and it’s important to share our challenges to understand better and support autistic parents.
Shamiha Patel is a writer with a background in Psychology who focuses on neurodiversity, parenting, and relationships. She is a featured top writer on Medium based in the UK.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.