Earlier in my adult experiences, and even in my later teen years, I thought parents disciplining their kids more would result in fewer difficulties like those associated with ADHD, ODD, executive dysfunction, and more. I thought the insensitivity from those with autism was controllable. That the perceived inconsideration of those with depression or other mental differences was intentional.
Here's a shocker for those who knew me in my younger days--I was WRONG. I have learned and grown. Much of which is thanks to my children and husband. I think they've taught me more than I have them.
The actions of those with autism, ADHD, depression, Tourette's, and more are not within their control. You would no more tell a person with epilepsy to simply stop seizing than you would a person with autism is express their emotions more outwardly or someone with ADHD to sit still for five minutes.
My shift in perspectives occurred when Will was quite young, thankfully. It was not easy to break these preconceived notions I had regarding raising and teaching children. While we were gentle parents (no spanking, connection based, reasons for our words), we didn't collaborate or encourage true discussions with our kids. We were much stricter when our kids were quite young. Which may have paid off in their middle years, admittedly. But I believe we could have reached this point with a modicum more collaboration than we used early on.
Learning about autism through the diagnostic process with Will also showed me more about Leigh. I was lucky enough to shift my perspective in my relationship with my husband as well. I understand now that his lack of emotional response wasn't a lack of emotions. That his straight forwardness wasn't insensitivity. That he didn't lack compassion, but showed it differently.
I also learned that when I didn't ensure my words were clear, my husband struggled to understand my needs. I was used to choosing my words carefully for my son so transferring that skill to another relationship wasn't a challenge. I frequently see comments about adults with autism and difficult they are to understand and get to know and maintain relationships with. All that is true. What I don't see as often are the wonderful words of those who have decided to put in the work to understand their loved ones with autism. Yes, they're hard to understand. But they are worth it!
Choosing to change how I looked at my husband and son and choosing to interact with both of them differently changed my relationships with them both. My husband and I are stronger and more connected. My son and I understand each other better and we have a much looser, less strained relationship.
This shift doesn't just happen. It is a conscious choice. It is work. If your child or partner or sibling or parent or friend has autism, you have a choice to make. Are you going to put in the work to grow a meaningful relationship in which you gain mutual understanding? Or are you going to walk away? Are you going to learn to speak autism or not?
Similar is true when building a relationship with someone with any other diagnosis. Are you going to choose to understand the other person and communicate in a way that helps them understand you?
This is all much more complicated in cases where there are additional difficulties or the other person refuses to get help or accept help. There are, of course, exceptions to all this. It is sometimes possible to give all of yourself and get nothing in return. This is rare, though. More often than not, the mentally different person in your life wants you to understand them and wants to understand you. It can be challenging to determine when to stay and when to cut ties. Seeking help for yourself and your loved on is step one. If your loved on cannot or refuses to engage in counseling with you, go yourself. Go to a counselor trained specifically in whatever the diagnosis so you can learn about it.
Get support via internet groups like Asperger's Partners on FB (https://www.facebook.com/groups/4073743852713466) and https://www.growingexceptional.com/forum/marriage. Bring your specific situations to a group of supportive people with different but valuable experiences and a deep sensitivity for those with mental differences.
Find the magic in your neurodivergent loved one.