What is it like to be an Autism Mom?


The other day a good friend asked me, “What is it like to be an autism mom?”  My answer was simple, “It’s like being a mom.” Just like most moms, I worry about my child, every day. I ask myself, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I being a good mother, teacher, or mentor?”  What mom doesn’t want their child to be successful.

Success for me is a little bit different because autism can be recognized by UNTYPICAL behaviors.  You can probably name some of them, like repeating words or sentences or jumping or flapping of hands.  Some unrecognized behaviors we deal with on a daily basis include: rigidity in routine, inability to express emotions, and lack of emotional intelligence for people around you.  These behaviors make success more challenging for my child, myself, and others.

The Difference Through a Story

The best way to explain the difference is through a story.  Like most families, we enjoy traveling. Our family takes multiple trips a year to see grandparents and have a little downtime outside DC.  When Savannah was about 4 years old, we were on a longer flight and the worst possible thing happened, HER IPAD MALFUNCTIONED!!! Savannah went into a full meltdown.  She was screaming and crying and for the life of me I couldn’t get the iPad to function. Tyler was a baby, and was sleeping in my arms there was little I could do to manage her needs.  My husband was lending support from across the aisle. The only solution was to restart the iPad. As the screaming was getting louder, my anxiety was peaking. I was frantic, and clearly not helping Savannah calm down.  While I held my son in one arm, I used my free arm to try to fix the problem. Then I heard a voice from the seat in front of me say, “Geez, why can’t people control their kids.” I felt several things in the moment. First, I wanted to jump out of my seat and give that lady the WHAT TO on autism.  Second, I felt sad and ashamed that my daughter was creating such a scene and disrupting the people around us. My husband saw the viciousness and helplessness in my eyes, tapped the lady on the shoulder, leaned in and whispered something to her. I think he said something like, our daughter has autism.  She immediately turned around and apologized. After several more minutes of chaos, the iPad came back to life, and everything was back to normal. Although the immediate need was over, I felt scared from the experience.

I think most moms have a similar story about a meltdown in a public place, and having the same feelings of anger, shame, embarrassment, and eventually relief.  The only difference is autism moms experience these feelings more often. With that being said, autism families over prepare for every situation we can think of and then some.  I can tell you that I was that lady on the airplane a few years before the incident simply because I didn’t understand. I believe most people are good people, but sometimes we forget that others might be facing different circumstances than our own.

Be Slow to Judge

I don’t want you to understand what we go through on a daily basis, because that would mean that you are also an autism mom.  I do ask that you have awareness and acceptance in daily life when things are different. What does that mean? If you see a kid melting down in the grocery store or on an airplane, be slow to judgment.  That mom may just be a typical mom having a bad day, or she could be an autism mom trying to survive day to day.

This post was provided by a guest contributor. Nicole is passionate about being a mom and creating autism acceptance.  She founded the DC-based company Untypical to create autism acceptance everyday by everyone. Nicole and her husband, Steven, have two children: Tyler (3) typically developing, and Savannah (6) untypical.  Nicole spends most of her free time advocating and presenting to audiences about autism. Nicole has a BS in Forensic Chemistry and has been a civil servant for 20 years.