“Are you a parent or a professional?”

5 comments

identity-crisis[1]

“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.

5 comments on ““Are you a parent or a professional?””

  1. Are you a parent or a professional? Yes. Is it all overwhelming or soul-satisfying? Yes, in the words of your wife. Is this child loved, and will you and your whole family provide whatever resources she needs when she needs them? Yes and yes. You are already doing so.

  2. It can be so overwhelming to imagine the potential scope of her future needs, especially when “one day at a time” is hard enough, but it is soul-satisfying to know it’s here for her if she needs it.

  3. This was great Natacha. I think you captured what a lot of special needs parents feel. Does your school district have a special needs parent organization? Many of the parents I work with have found that resource highly beneficial.

  4. Beautifully touching piece. In the land of foster parenting, we were often referred to as “professional parents”, though I’m still not sure if that’s quite right.

  5. Natacha this piece is so raw and honest. Maybe trust that feeling of wanting more connection – it might lead you to even more support.

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