Tuesday, February 11, 2014

You are NOT an expert on your child

This is going to be a short post. Actually, probably more of a vent. No, scratch that: it's definitely a rage-style rant (which means "Zita's friends list is about to drop off by 10%")

Parents (of ASD children or otherwise):  YOU ARE NOT THE EXPERT ON YOUR CHILD.

I don't care how often you say this yourself.

I don't care how good it makes you feel at night to wrap yourself up in the idea that you know exactly what is best because you are the "expert".

I don't care what the teachers, the doctors, the therapists, or your puppy says.

I'm going to repeat this again:


No one can be an expert on another human being except THAT human being.

Which means that, at best, YOUR CHILD is the expert on HIM/HERSELF. 

Let me ask you this:

If I were to call up your mother today and ask her to describe your personality in exact detail, would that description match how you would describe yourself? How would she describe your face? How would she define your job? What would she see as being your major triggers, the topics that make you angry? What does she think your learning style is? 

My mom and I are basically best friends. We lived together as adults and co-parented (along with my amazing husband) Sammie for the first two ish years of his life. Now, we live separately but still turn to each other on most things. She is my number one source of advice.

But is she an expert on me? Hells no.

Not on me the adult, and DEFINITELY not on me the child.

There is TONS about me that she doesn't know. There is TONS about me that I kept hidden and she only found out about years later.

Want a clear cut example? She didn't find out that I was raped at 15 until I was 19. Four years, she watched her daughter struggle with depression, food issues, anxiety disorders, self-harm, horribly abusive relationships...And how did she find out? I left a e-diary entry open on the computer in which I mentioned it in passing.

Four years later.

That's a long time in parenting years.

And this is despite the fact that she and I were very close. I didn't tell her. I didn't really tell anybody.

We all have secrets, and these are part of who we are and how we tick. Usually a big part of it, actually.

Beyond that, I spend hours and hours every day talking to my husband. I fell in love with him when I was just a young, naive university kid and grow more adoring of him every day. He is my perfect match, the ying to my yang, and the reason why everything in my life is possible.

And every single day I learn something new about him.

Yup. Over 3000 days into our relationship, after almost 5000 days of knowing each other, and I am only beginning to scratch the surface of what makes him the amazing person that he is.

I know more about him than any other person on the planet...but I am NOT an expert.

My son Sammie doesn't speak with his voice. He communicates with his facial expressions, his body, his behaviour, his touch, his eye gaze, and every other instrument available to him...but he doesn't speak.

So I spend an awful lot of my time trying to read between the lines of his behaviour and his signals. And have the time, I get them crossed. At least 10% of my day is spent wondering what is happening inside that beautiful little head of his.

How-- HOW???--- could I ever claim to be an expert on someone who has only said a handful of words to me in the totality of his life? When I spend half my day wondering why he took his socks off, or where the tablet went, or why he suddenly seems to be into Charlie The Train instead of James.

Even when your child does have words, if they are under the age of 6 or 7, they are only just beginning to understand how to put those thoughts, feelings, and opinions into them.  They are only starting to create a worldview for themselves, to understand their own value system and to become their own actualized person.

Most of us, whether we are young children or grown adults, can't even claim to be experts on ourselves?

So why -- WHY??? --- do we keep perpetuating this myth? Why do we create this unachievable standard by which our parenting should be judged?

After all, if we are experts, we should be able to give you a detailed account of why every meltdown happened. Right?

We should be able to explain every single food aversion, including why some are a matter of preference and others are sensory issues. Right?

We should be able to decipher exactly when our child is on the brink of sensory overload, and accommodate the space accordingly. Right?

No. Of course not. Because while we may be the most knowledgeable on our child, while we may be the people who spend the most time with them, and while we may even be the people who understand them the best, NO ONE CAN BE AN EXPERT ON ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.

You only get what they show you, and usually that's only a tiny glimpse of the big picture.

No, we are not experts. And we should not be expected to be. No parent is an expert on their child. No parent has this all figured out. No parent can predict the behaviour or outcome of every situation their child find themselves in.

We are all flying blind.

Because human beings are not static things. They grow. They evolve. They change. They are unpredictable. They are amazing. They can not be defined by their past or boxed into a specific future.

They are far too complex a subject for anyone to ever claim an expertise.

And assuming that you are an expert authority on another human being can be extremely dangerous. It can lead you to miss signals and signs that might have otherwise been picked up on. You may think that they are just being "moody" when it fact they are deeply depressed and need help. You may think that your child has a "wonderful relationship" with that trusted family friend, only to learn that it was quite the opposite...What you may assume is a social deficit might actually be a sensory overload. What you think they love to eat might actually be what is making them sick.

Pretending that you ALWAYS KNOW, means actually HAVING TO KNOW.

That's a lot of pressure for a parent.

So, I am releasing myself from the "expert" myth.

I am NOT an expert on my child. Half the time, I am just making guesses based on what I've seen in the past and hoping that I don't screw him (and I) up too badly along the way.

And there are LOTS of people out there who may understand certain things about him better than I do. Spending time with someone is not necessarily an indicator of understanding them.

So I'm going to ask everyone I can, everywhere I find them, to help me decipher the clues.

I may not be an expert- but I'm one hell of a researcher, and I'm going to make damn sure that my "guesses" are as educated as they can be.

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