“Are you a parent or a professional?” I was asked several times at the ASRC Autism Services and Resource Connecticut Resource Fair this weekend. Good question. It’s like being asked if I’m black, gay, or a woman? How do I separate my identity?

If I was speaking with a parent, I noticed a change in expression and body language. “Yes, my six-year old daughter was diagnosed at two-and-a half.” In the few interactions I had, this opened the door to sharing information and a rather honest conversation. As I moved throughout the crowd, I felt connected to others, a feeling I seldom have as a parent.

Reviewing a table of books, I couldn’t help overhearing a woman describe the behavior of a six-year old who’s challenges sounded very similar to my own daughter. After peeking at the book she was holding, I feverishly searched the stacks to get a copy that may help address some boundary issues we’ve had lately. After five minutes, I sheepishly approached her admitting to overhearing her dilemma. “Actually, I’m not the parent. I work with him.” she seemed apologetic. “Oh, that ‘s okay. I’ll take whatever works.” She seemed embarrassed or uncomfortable. Was it because she wasn’t a parent or had she experienced the same response I had when I admitted to being a ‘professional’ earlier in the day. I received more positive responses if I admitted to being a parent to other parents and a professional to other professionals.

As I roamed various booths and tables, I responded to the question based on the interaction or the moment. Essentially, I was a mother and social worker. I can empathize with any parent negotiating a meltdown in public, as well as know the inherent power that comes from being a ‘professional’ assessing the parent of the child having that meltdown. There is a vulnerability and strength to being a family member. My parenting skills are often analyzed by clinical staff, school personnel, and evaluators as an ongoing part of my child’s program. The value in being a parent of a child with ‘different abilities’ is I am the expert. As her caregiver, teacher, and support my participation is critical to her success.

It’s hard to admit, but I have struggled to stay connected to parents of kids on the Spectrum. My spouse would argue that I rarely stay connected, relying on her networking skills. Lately, I feel the need to connect. An increase in calls from school and more physical acting out at home is a challenge. I feel defeated and worried in a way I have not felt before.

As I strolled past the various tables and booths, I took in the multiple realities of this diagnosis. I have a child that could need respite programs, in home services, behaviorist, speech therapy, occupational therapy, legal services, or transitional living, now or in the future. We could pursue a variety of therapeutic services, holistic health options, and access a multitude of health care providers. The options were seemingly limitless and the resources rather amazing. At the same time, I left feeling that the no matter how available the resources, the journey itself is a full-time job. The commitment to loving, teaching and supporting a child with these unique needs requires a commitment that is undefinable.

So am I a parent or a professional? I am both.

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