Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | February 21, 2012

Things my parents did RIGHT

Despite the fact that they spent much of my childhood trying to beat the Autism out of me, and raised me in an incredibly abrasive and mentally/physically unsafe environment, my parents did do some good things for me, too. They taught me how to live independently. They taught me responsibility, and they taught me accountability. These are some of the most important things a kid can learn, regardless of ability. One of the hardest things for me to do is think in “shades of gray”. On one hand, my parents were abusive, abrasive and oftentimes neglecting. On the other hand, they taught me the most valuable life lessons that one can learn. Nobody is perfect, and I do believe that my parents thought they were doing the right things for me growing up on all accounts. That doesn’t make everything OK, but it doesn’t make everything all bad either. Shades of gray. Intermediates. Goods and bad in the same people. There is good in everything, if you look for it, and I always look for it. It’s my nature. Here are some of the great life-skills that my parents worked to instill in me that have helped me to function as an independent adult:

  • I’ve been doing laundry since I was tall enough to reach into the top-load washer on a stool (and helping to fold it before then). There were consequences for not doing my laundry: I would have to wear dirty clothes. And since I *hated* dirty clothes, this was a good motivator. But that was the only consequence. Very straightforward: don’t do your laundry? (Or don’t fold it?) You have to wear the dirty/wrinkly clothes.
  • I’ve been making my own breakfast since kindergarten. My mother taught me how to make instant oatmeal in the microwave (open package into microwave-safe bowl, add ½ cup water, microwave for 1 minute, stir), and that was basically my staple breakfast food for years. It was also my responsibility to get myself up and make my own breakfast.
  • I either had to take a lunch ticket or make my own lunch. I used to be able to make a lunch in 2.5 minutes. And that includes toasting the bread so that it doesn’t get soggy. (BEST LUNCH TIP EVER: LIGHTLY toast the bread – not enough to brown, but just to make it a little stiff. Then make the sandwich. By the time lunch rolls around, the consistency of the bread will be back to “normal” – not too stiff, not too soggy.) Admittedly, my lunches were not always the healthiest of creations (though we didn’t have much junk food in the house, so they weren’t that bad), but they did serve the added bonus of getting me to intake calories, and that was a good thing. I’ve been told that this was the rule because I refused to eat the lunches my mother packed for me in preschool. After that, I was in “big-girl school” and I was responsible.
  • On that note, I was responsible for getting myself up and moving every morning. If I was late (and I *HATED* being late), it was my fault, and I knew that. This started in kindergarten as well, when my parents bought me an alarm clock. Since then, I’ve only gotten up late a handful of times, nearly all accidently, and each time caused a meltdown because it was a break in routine that I couldn’t deal with. Usually if my mother had to wake me up, it was accompanied with utter panic on my part, and I tried to do pretty much anything to avoid a meltdown. The only other times I would wake up late were if I was sick. And even then, I would often try to go to school, because I hated a break in my routine.
  • I’ve had chores since the last year of preschool. And not just “keep your room clean and make your bed”. Each year, I was “awarded” another chore, because I was older and thus “more responsible”. I was responsible for setting and clearing the table. It was my job to go through the house and collect all the trash from all the trash cans, put them into one bag, and bring it to the big trash can in the garage. Then I had to bring the trash cans and recycling down to the curb for pickup. When I was in 3rd grade, I started being responsible for one “family” dinner per week, and this increased over time. I helped to keep the house clean. I took care of our pets. I babysat my younger siblings. I often did odd jobs around the house. The list goes on. My parents expected me to be a fully participating member of the household, and if there was a chore they thought I should do, I learned how to do it.
  • To go along with the chores, I was also given an allowance. It wasn’t much, it started at 35 cents per week (in 1995, it was still not a lot of money, but it felt like it back then). But each year as I got older and got more responsibilities, they increased it a little. They provided piggy-banks and then when I was 8 or 9, they introduced me to the real bank. I was encouraged to save up for things I wanted (eg. books, toys) and spend my own money on them. This taught me that money doesn’t just appear, and that you have to work for it whenever you are able to do so. If I didn’t do a chore or behaved badly, my allowance was docked accordingly. If I did something extra, sometimes they would give me a little more. Along these lines, I was also encouraged to use my pet-care skills that I learned to take care of neighbor’s pets when they were not home. (Babysitting was also something I did a little bit of, but I really didn’t like it and although the kids never had anything bad happen in my care, they didn’t have that much fun, and I didn’t either.) And to this day, I have a good sense of money. I am able to put away and save, and I have never, ever overdrawn my bank account, despite spending 7 months without a steady income recently. I have a “rainy day” fund that I spend enormous amounts of effort maintaining, and it has and will help me stay afloat when I need it. They also taught me how to balance a checkbook and other essential financial skills.
  • I was taught manners. Often brutally, but there were good things they did too. For example, we used to play a game at the dinner table called “10 pennies”. Each person started with a stack of 10 pennies, and each time someone broke an etiquette rule we would lose a penny. Whatever you had left at the end of the evening was yours. If you got to zero, you had to go to your piggy bank and get more pennies. My mother was OBSESSED with Ms. Manners, and the rule-book was great for the pragmatic Autistic child – it explained everything! I was also taught about saying “excuse me”, “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”, as well as addressing adults as “Sir” and “Ma’am” or Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss. Politeness came before everything.
  • I was given the opportunity to take (low-key) music lessons, with the most wonderful piano teacher in the world. This will be the subject of a post in the future, but suffice it to say I LOVE classical music, I love playing classical music, and my piano teacher was one of most wonderful, kind, caring individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
  • I was allowed and encouraged to participate in sports. I wasn’t always good (terrible coordination, incredibly klutzy, bad at communicating/reading teammates/coach, too chaotic, etc), but I found a niche in an individual sport that still had a team. I learned a lot from my teammates, who ranged in age from 2-3 years older to 2-3 years younger than me over the course of my 12 years participating. And I learned body control, how to set goals, and how to keep in shape. No, I was never going to the Olympics, but I sure had fun while I was doing it, and I made some great friends, because we had the sport in common.
  • There were rules. Lots and lots of rules. Excessive rules. While I’m not advocating for the amount or rules my parents enforced on me (and there were a *LOT* of them), I do think the structure was very helpful. I knew what was right and wrong, and I followed the rules. They did a pretty bad job of teaching me to question the rules, and that is a skill I’m still developing. But I do think having structure helped me a lot growing up. I learned personal hygiene based on the rules, and that is definitely one of the most important things one can learn. One of the rules I go back and forth on is the “NO TV” rule. While I’m grateful that I was raised without it, so now TV doesn’t play a big role in my life, it means that I have very little to converse about with people of my generation, and is just another thing that alienated me when I was younger. I didn’t know what Barney was until 4th grade! (Though come to think of it, that’s not such a bad thing, now, is it?). One thing is the rules stayed basically the same throughout my life. My parents never let up on them, and when I was a senior in high school, I was still bound by most of the rules I was bound by in kindergarten. There was no element of trust, no relaxation of the rules as I showed myself to be more responsible. My mother’s friend would often comment to me that my mother still treated me like I was 6. But as this is a post about what they did right, not what they did wrong, I will stop the griping. Rules are good and bad, and it depends entirely on the individual how they work.
  • When I turned 5, I got a library card in my name for my 5th birthday present. I still have it, with my name barely legible, printed in big block letters as I struggled to write. They encouraged my love of reading. They allowed me to think and learn. If I started perseverating, that wasn’t tolerated (though I did learn to hide it sometimes), but I was encouraged to read, learn, explore, and love the written word.

So there we have it: some things that my parents did right. I learned from a very young age that I was responsible for my actions, and that the consequences were real. I learned life skills, like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and maintaining finances. I learned responsibility and accountability and manners. I learned how to take care of my body, and how to set my own routines. I learned that not all adults are scary, and that music is a wonderful thing on many levels. I was taught to respect the rules (though I do think a little bit too much). I learned how to live independently. And I was taught to love learning. And when it boils down to it, those are some pretty important lessons.

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Responses

  1. Those are some pretty important lessons, thank you so much for sharing!

    I can’t believe some of the things you were doing so young!! I want to teach my son independence and self help skills, (he’s 4 now) but it seems a lot of that stuff is still a long way away! He’s still in diapers at night and can just about dress himself. I can’t imagine what he’d do to the kitchen if I tried to make him pour his own cereal.

    He does help a lot around the house though. He loves helping me load the washing machine (it’s become a bit of an issue, he loves it so much. If it was up to him the washing machine would be working all. day. long!) and he’ll usually pick stuff up off the floor if I ask him to.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I definitely understand the fear of what might happen in the kitchen – I wasn’t left alone in there until I was almost 6… and then it was to make single-serving cereal packets. But I had to start somewhere right? The washing machine is pretty fun, though – do you have one of those see-through doors?

  2. I agree that they are fantastic skills, especially for those of us who were wired to struggle a bit with those skills. A few of these bullets are lovely (piano, sports, the library), but the rest break my heart. I admire you for reaching in and finding the good sides to all of this.

    • Thanks for the comment. :) From my experience, when I struggle with a skill or something of that nature, I just need TONS more practice. It takes me a lot longer than most people to learn a new skill, and I simply go at it head on. Ten times not enough? Ok, I’ll do it 100 times, or 1000 times, or 10,000 times, until I get it right.

  3. I came here via Jo Ashlines’ blog, which I went to via TPGA….

    Thank you for writing what you did on her blog. It spoke to me on so many levels.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. :) I am really glad that my words can help communicate such important messages.

  4. [...] condition, and I didn’t feel disabled, since I was getting good grades, and doing science, and had been trained to be able to take care of myself, I didn’t really care. I did realize that things were “getting in the way of leading the life [...]

  5. OK, I officially envy you all of this. My mother (my only parent) is the world’s least confrontational person, had absolutely no ability to discipline me, is far too disorganized herself to create any kind of rules, routine, or structure for anyone else… in short, she’s too much like me, and she spoiled me rotten. I loved it growing up, but now I struggle with the basics of self-discipline and organization that are needed to live independently.

    Severe anxiety has always resulted in my shoving to the back of my mind anything that I don’t feel comfortable dealing with– and, until I got on medications that help reduce my stress levels, that meant a lot of missed deadlines, appointments, meals, medications– you name it. I’ve recently heard this referred to as a form of “executive dysfunction,” apparently a lesser-known symptom in autistics (am I on the spectrum? I still don’t know…). I still have a hell of a time getting out of bed in the morning– and I still sleep through most alarm clocks. Fortunately, I enjoy doing laundry and taking showers.

    About the only rule I ever remember being enforced in the household when I was a child was “no swearing.” I may have even gotten fined a quarter or two for it on occasion. I was a little mouse who rarely did anything troublesome– or helpful. I was usually curled up in a corner with a book. Every once in a while I got it into my head that I wanted to learn something — music, dance, gymnastics– but I always quit almost immediately when it turned out to require effort and practice, and I was never made to stick with anything.

    The one thing we had in common was the lack of TV! (Sometimes we owned one, and when we did, I was allowed a limited quantity of PBS, science and nature shows, and Star Trek: The Next Generation). Like you, I’m glad… but faced a lot of teasing from my peers over not knowing ANY pop culture references.

    I love the idea of the 10 pennies game. I might have been far more amenable to learning manners if they’d been presented in that sort of format.

  6. Wow. Lots of rules. I guess that’s good in a way and obviously, you have done well for yourself, but your household sounds hard. Then, I read the comment above about lack of rules and wonder what in the world I’m doing with my own son! I guess there has to be a middle ground. Right now, I’m just happy my 5 year old boy sticks with me for homework, has a kind disposition, and generally listens. This “good” list sounds more like generosity on your part than happiness. I hope I got that wrong.

  7. Middle ground! Love that last comment! I baby and spoil my two kids, one on the spectrum, the other with Tourrettes. My son on the spectrum is 5, still in diapers and refuses to potty train, but is always kind and respectful while my daughter who is 9 loves to complain. Ugh! Middle ground. I need to set more rules, chores, give allowances…but still show compassion abd understanding for their disabilities. Love your insight, E!

    • Thanks, Tina! Yes, middle ground is important. And of course, “middle ground” means something different for everyone. In this case, I put out the things I thought were helpful for me – on the off-chance that someone would think some of them might be useful for themselves or their children. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the post, and thanks for the comment :)

  8. I still have a difficult time doing half of the things that you just listed, and I’m sixteen. xD I’m quite impressed.

    • And now I’m 23… it takes time, and sometimes a terrifying set of parents…

      • That must be it, then. My mom’s very protective of me. I’m sorry that you had to go through such hardship. <3

  9. That’s a wonderful list. I think every person with autism will have a unique list- thanking their friends and family. Here is mine.

    1. My parents found occupational therapy for me- my social life changed for the better because of it.

    2. Like you, my parents got me piano lessons at an early age. It has become my go-to de-stress activity (though sadly I don’t engage it as much since I started OT school).

    3. Like you, my mom try to emphasize manners with me. In addition, I am well versed with Chinese idiom stories. These two things keep me well grounded.

    4. My parents told me that I have to be responsible for my own care from day 1 since I am diagnosed with AS. That can be overwhelming for a lot of people. But, it taught me a lot more in helping me to be an OT because there are many occasions where I have to be my own OT… and mastering these skills will allow me to help other individuals with autism who are not so fortunate.

    5. My parents allowing me to go to OT conferences. I have a lot of my friends telling me that they are expensive. So, being able to go as many as I do (13 after next month) allowed me to make a name for myself in the field while making many friends who played instrumental roles in my recovery and ultimately be the OT that I am today.

  10. I can really understand a lot of these things- the problems with texture sensitivity in foods, the enjoyment of doing repetitive things, the obsession with reading for hours and forgetting to eat or drink, etc.

    I don’t really know if I fall on the “spectrum,” but I do exhibit some traits (some that make me think of “stimming”, such as pulling out hairs from my eyebrows and eyelashes to feel better, even to the point that I started having to draw on eyebrows when I was only 10 for awhile. Now I mostly pull out designated “bad hairs” in the middle of my forehead or on my groin area so they don’t really show), and while I was able to socialize fine with adults and did well academically as a child, I was almost held back in kindergarten because I had a severe lack of social skills (which I was punished for), and I gravitated to what the popular kids referred to as “the weird kids” (mostly other kids like me with similar issues and backgrounds in abuse). Luckily, I was able to find two people who were as into imagination and fantasy pretending as me.

    I began wanting to run away from home at around 8 or so years of age, but luckily was able to cope somewhat with the abusive behavior by always doing what I was told, suppressing all my feelings to the point of numbness, and doing everything I could to not be home or not be around my mom.

    My mom stayed at home, so she was the major negative and abusive influence in my life. She is a very narcissistic and self-centered person.

    Anyway, I guess when it comes down to it, your post really resonates with me, but to some extent, I don’t really feel like I would like to identify with a spectrum disorder, because it freaks me out a little- mostly the stigma and the fact that my mom uses every little thing I do “wrong” as a way to argue that I will never succeed in life (I’ve been married for almost a decade but she says that I “failed” because I didn’t marry a rich man. I have two adorable, healthy kids, but she says that I “failed” because they don’t like their veggies and have food sensitivity issues that I respect and I don’t spank them. I live financially free from my parents with my little family but she says I have “failed” because we can only afford to rent a 1 bedroom apartment and can’t afford a house.

    Nothing I ever do is good enough and she always finds some way to twist the knife in further, even if she does it in a way that no one else notices but me, or when we’re alone so that “no one will believe you.”

    She even holds my dad hostage because if I want to see him, I have to visit them both. If I cut off all contact with her, I have to stop ever seeing my dad again, which would break my heart.

    So, in the end, this kinda turned into a weird personal rant. I hope you are not bothered by it.

    Suffice to say, I think that it is problematic when parents don’t listen to their children. My youngest is still mostly pre-verbal at 15 months and when she’s freaking out and crying, my first instinct is not to tell her to shut up. It’s to figure out what’s wrong. If something doesn’t work, I keep trying new things to help and eventually I figure it out. Most of the time, she is good at telling me what she needs by pointing or making noises, but sometimes she has meltdowns and I have never understood why some parents seem to think that kids freak out to make the parent miserable or to hurt the parent.

    It really breaks my heart to see, but luckily humans are strong, and even if we grow up in a bad situation, we can often transcend it with our own strength.

    Great blog!

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment, it sounds like a very sticky situation. Definitely I understand the frustration of parents and their desire and need to control everything in our adult lives. It sounds like you are doing pretty well for yourself, though! :) Good luck. And don’t feel bad about leaving long comments. (I did for months before I finally just started my own blog…)

  11. Thank you so much for this blog entry. I’m going to use it to prove to my husband and mother in law that our almost five year old son can and should do chores for his age to help him become a responsible adult. I’m so happy I recently found your blog and I always look forward to reading it. Thank you so much for your time. I hope you have a great day!


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