A great group of moms that I am getting to know are members of the Special Education Parent, Teacher and Student Association (SEPTSA) here in Clark County. These women are mainly my age or older, with children who are in their teens or early adulthood. I feel so at ease with these women, as we discuss coping strategies and share places in the community that are particularly tolerant of our children. These midlife mothers, which I’ll call “SEPTSA moms” have a sense of acceptance and comfort with themselves and their families that I respect and strive for.
The article “Coping over time: the parents of children with autism” (Gray, D.E., Journal of Intellectual Research, vol 50:970-976) is a longitudinal study of parental coping with autism.
The study looked at how 20 families cope with raising an autistic child over time, through the use of two sets of in-depth interviews. Initial interviews took place at a treatment center for autism, and follow up interviews were conducted 8-10 years later. The researchers found that parental coping techniques changed over time. Parents in the later study used a fewer number of service providers and therapeutic interventions, and relied more heavily on emotion-focused means of coping such as social support, religion and a greater appreciation of their child’s positive qualities.
The researchers theorize that one reason for such a shift is that parents of younger children with autism have high expectations that their child would make significant progress toward “normality.” However, several years down the line when these expectations are not met, such parents turn to strategies to cope with the permanency of their child’s disability.
Gray’s study sheds light on why I feel more akin to the SEPTSA moms than some of the younger moms that I come in contact with through other groups. THE SEPTSA moms are more oriented towards the long haul, not the quick fix; the “what now?” not the "why my child?” The SEPTSA moms accept their kid’s quirks and seek ways to allow their children to experience joy in their own way. For example, Sayer is into banging on windows, walls, and tables. We have taught him to bang a drum or the floor instead. Even better, at the last SEPTSA meeting, a mom told us about a monthly drumming circle her own son enjoys that can provide Sayer with a chance to drum to his hearts content, with fellow drummers.
One positive thing about midlife is that is gives you some perspective. I can absorb the energy and enthusiasm from younger moms, without their feelings of urgency. I'm further along the "special needs" learning curve and that's a good thing.
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