When Caley, a young woman on the autism spectrum, was younger, she loved babies. “She’d coo at them and play with them and openly admire them,” her sister, Creigh explained. But when Caley started expressing her desire to have kids of her own someday, others started to intervene—first subtly, then not so subtly. She was told she couldn’t be a parent because she was autistic, and being autistic meant she couldn’t be a good mom. Besides, all the challenges of autism would get in her way. This hurt Caley. In order to protect herself from the pain, she feigned disinterest in children. Said she didn’t want them and didn’t even like them.
But here’s what Caley’s naysayers didn’t know: while our knowledge of the subject is limited, we do know people with autism can be good parents. In fact, many parents nowadays discover their own autism as a result of having their children diagnosed. While being a parent on the spectrum definitely comes with its challenges and struggles, autism alone does not define one’s parenting abilities. Certain traits of autism can even be advantageous to parenting.
STRENGTHS OF PARENTS WITH AUTISM
Our current research on autistic parenting is extremely limited, so we have no way of knowing for sure how autistic parents compare to neurotypical parents. But while autism can bring about several difficulties with parenting, some individuals cite it can also be an advantage.
People with autism, for one, tend to be rather structured and rigid. This character trait can help parents stay on top of things with their kids. One autistic mom, Kimberly, says, “I run everything, so whether it’s tennis or doctor appointments or camps or what classes they’re in or making sure they’re introduced to new ideas and new activities and new experiences, that’s all me. I’m on top of all that.”
Another feature of autism that can create fantastic parenting is the hyper-focus, particularly if that focus is directed toward their children. As Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism researcher, says, “My clinical experience is that some of the parents with autism are fantastic parents. The same kind of obsessive approach that characterizes autism in other ways can be a really positive thing in parenting.”
Perhaps most significantly, autistic people can be incredible parents to children who are also on the spectrum. They’ve been there; they get it. They can understand why their child is engaging in a behavior that would make other people scratch their heads in confusion—and that’s because they understand their way of thinking and perceiving the world. And perhaps best of all, autistic parents can provide their children with autism-specific coping skills and things that have helped them get through the neurotypical world.