*This is a guest post by a friend of mine. I’ve never been able to balance more than very part time work for these very reasons. *
Dear Co-Worker of a Typically Developing Child:
I am writing this because I hope this helps someone. I hope this teaches empathy to at least one person. I hope another mom, another special needs mom, can be spared sitting in a work meeting holding back tears, while visibly shaking, after a coworker belittles and breaks down whatever piece of soul is left that day. Because some days – it’s not much.
Life with Autism is different for everyone. For me – every morning is hell. My son is angry and violent until his medicine kicks in. I rush to get ready and get his siblings ready before I wake him up. A fruitless attempt to shield them from the mass destruction and chaos and anger of him (just) waking up. I scramble to create a space where he can be angry alone while I am dressing 2 little kids. It’s an elaborate game I have yet to master.
But, I really thought I (kind of) had it all together. My life mantra consisted of drop everyone off, cry in the car during my commute, do my makeup in the parking lot at work, head inside work repeating an off key version of “a cover girl doesn’t cry after her face is made” or, sometimes even “big girls don’t cry” in my head. Over and over. A fake it until you make it type thing.
Recently, somewhere along the way. And, honestly, I’m not sure where. But, you, a coworker decided that my son was causing a nuisance to our work environment. That my being late or leaving early or whatever the case may be was affecting you in some way. Or, at the very least obviously annoying you.
Yes, I was late to work today, again. What you don’t know, even though both supervisors did, was I spent my morning touring the third, yes third, potential school for my son. He has missed more school than he has attended this year. Actually for 3-years in a row, now. That is not okay.
Yes, The week prior I missed a regional staff meeting at work. It was a really important meeting. I should have been there. Instead, I was in about hour-24 of sitting in crisis with my son. By that point I had been awake for 48 hours straight, had police contact twice, DYFS (division youth family services) contact multiple times and been back and forth to a hospital 3 times (2 different hospitals). I would have much rather been eating bagels (my favorite part) at the staff meeting. Trust me.
I pray you never experience any of this. I pray your heart is protected from the pain of watching your child suffer day in and day out with no real way to help.
You see by all accounts I am a well respected, educated, knowledgeable professional. I went to school for almost a decade. I have a lot invested and riding on this career thing. Every program I enter – every story I hear – more often than not – I think of my son and what I would want for my child.
We use our paid time off differently. You go on amazing vacations. That’s awesome. Really. Most of my paid time off from work goes to my child. Meetings, appointments, the crisis of the moment. I don’t get extra free time off. I really hope you understand that. In addition, I never ever want my personal life to make me seem incompetent. Ever. I work through lunch, take on special projects, work from home – do anything to prove my worth. That my family, my Autistic son with PTSD, anxiety and mood disorder does not define my capabilities as a professional. I’m not trying to look better than you. I’m trying to make up for all that Autism has stolen from my life and career.
I don’t expect you to understand any of this. I’m not asking for privilege or special treatment. I’m asking for kindness. Basic human kindness from one person to another. And, maybe, a teeny bit of compassion. If not for me – then hopefully for the next special needs mom.
Every Special Needs Parent (Everywhere)