Parenting the Autism Spectrum: A Love Song

It’s the parochial archetype.

Crisp white linens absorb the gentle breeze and filtered sunshine as they flutter lazily from a clothesline, the starkness a deep contrast against the idyllic backdrop of a lush green forest.

Oh, let me stay and sway like the trees

The scene is interrupted by a woman adding to the line of platinum white fabrics, not clad in the gingham apron or pin curls one might expect of the scene, but tattooed and dressed in all black, her jet chandelier earrings swinging defiantly against the rhythm of the linens.

Just go

A shoe is hung on the line, a coquettish, prim little kitten-heeled mary jane. I grin. Through the sheer of a fabric, a boy in blue shorts and matching sky blue shirt can be seen approaching from behind. I know where this is going. I know this story.

This is all I need to be okay, alone
Just go

A smile teases one corner of her mouth. It’s the smile of my people. She doesn’t yet know why she really shared this with me. Her smile breaks, a full beacon of light through the parentheses of black cherry lips. She is not performing. She is a performer who never performs. Real is written on her DNA.

And I don’t expect to move from this spot, oh no
Move on

Her voice is magnetic, timeless, liquid. She hangs a power strip on the line. A spatula suspended from a clothespin dances with the change in tension. But, then the taciturn little boy enters the shot, his steps clumsy inside too-big rubber boots. Somewhere along the way, he lost his shirt. The dam breaks, just then, and I’m weeping. I know this little boy who walks softly and carries a big stick. This little boy with no malice and no greed and a golden heart. This little boy who colors outside the lines. This little boy I’d stand down an army for every day of every week. This little boy, my daughter. My brother. My best friend. What a gift I’ve been given, and she has no idea what she’s done. I’m not worthy. She thinks she has asked me for a favor, but I was waiting for her. I didn’t expect her to pick up so quickly on my trail of crumbs. She’s quick.

‘Cuz I am content whether you like it or not
Move on

There’s a puddle of pitch black mud, a small hole. A chubby, intrepid little hand breaks the surface tension. Then, mommy’s hands. The hole is growing, and now there’s mud on her smiling face. The whites, grandmother’s lace, the Sunday best, the doily on the sewing machine no one has used for decades—and the mud is flying. The boy’s stick rakes through the growing, amorphous puddle. The lawn is littered with the wreckage of alabaster expectations, and she’s unpacking the line, her hands smearing an irreverent, tarry Rorschach on the antique sheers. I nod through my tears, because I know that her eyes interpret the inkblot the same way mine does. We see through the same perceptive lens.

And do not ask me to comply

Then there’s the money shot: a black ruffled crinoline hangs darkly whimsical over legs with feet firmly planted, uncompromising and resolute. A swath of soiled white fabric flutters to the ground. It is the flag of surrender. The boy comes, picks it up, and dons it like a cape, unaware of the battles fought to bring him to this point, or the ones she will fight in his future. Mama fastens his cape, and he runs, the textile flapping behind him and black mud dotting his bare torso like medals of honor. And then, they’re running, a mother and son pair of superheroes.

Just go

I can’t stop crying, and I can’t stop listening. All I can do is think of so many people—people I love to the marrow of my bones—and how much I wish they could have been parented like this just one day in their whole miserable lives. How, if my closest friend had just experienced this childhood for a single day he might still be alive.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how proud I was of my aspie husband who cheers for our toddler when she colors on all the surfaces in our home, and how he is oblivious to the judgment of the world when he’s out with his neurodiverse daughter. I feel validated, too, that someone has put everything about how I feel about parenting my child to song. I feel hopeful, because the song is going to resonate with women who need permission to let go of the antiquated and provincial, seen-not-heard toxic parenting whereby children are raised as extensions of the parents’ ego as status symbols to be broken into compliance.

This song tells more than the story of what it means to be an aspie parenting an autistic child. It’s the battle cry of rebelling against the illusions of what “should” be, of wearing the mud the world slings in your direction like a mural of pride and scars, of laughing in the face of propriety, of the gentle but indomitable spirit of being neurodiverse, and mostly of the unconditional love of a mother who raises a child in his or her own language… at least that’s how I heard the song.

I was waiting for Jen when she messaged me a month ago to ask me if I’d do a review of a song, though she couldn’t have known that. It was the first time I’d spoken to her outside of a brief interchange on a neurodiversity allies social media group. I’d read the patterns in her words, and I had left her a beacon with the hope she’d, in turn, see the same pattern in mine. She did, and I could not be more honored than to say yes to her request.

This probably isn’t what she expected, but I hope I’ve done it justice by letting the world hear her song through my perception. This is her love song to neurodiverse children and their mothers, neurotypical and neurodiverse. It’s validation of the dark beauty of an imperfect woman with perfect courage. It’s testament to the unmitigated freedom in letting go of expectations and pride, of meaningless attachments and soulless relics, to break free of the social chains that profane relationships. It’s the gift of knowing that as long as Jen’s out there, the outcaste can be alone together with her. And me.

It’s quite possibly the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.

Any parent of a neurodiverse child can find exactly what it is he or she needs to learn—or unlearn—from this song and the beautifully-rendered video which accompanies it.  See more of Jen at her website.

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