Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mother blaming and conceptions of normal child behavior

I really haven't had much time for posting lately, which means I have missed some really important events (like the Ontario court decision to strike down laws that are harmful to sex workers). In this post, I will be discussing one of the many reasons why I haven't had time to post (other than grad school, union work, teaching, and all of the other work involved with being
a single mother with two children).

My son has always been a bit different in comparison to other kids his age, but I just thought that was his personality. I thought he was just shy when he wouldn't come out of a closet at a new daycare for a couple hours, or when he went more than 2 weeks without speaking to daycare workers and still won't make eye contact with them. I thought he was just a mama's boy when, at the age of 5, he still wants me to carry him a lot and will cry if he doesn't sit beside me in a restaurant. And I thought he was just really interested in art and building when he spent hours working on puzzles, coloring, or playing with lego without breaking concentration. I never really saw it as a sign that something might be wrong. Actually, I find him to be very intelligent, artistic, affectionate (with me, anyway), and even funny (like when he tells his only joke over and over again- knock knock, who's there, why'd the chicken cross the road- laughter).

But, after a few problems at school, I went to a referral agency to be connected to free services in the area that might help with parenting strategies, and after a few lengthy tests, they want me to have him assessed for Aspergers.

Now, I don't know much about Aspergers other than reading a few websites and watching a season of the TV show Parenthood, where one of the children has it and I've heard the writers and actor are quite realistic with this portrayal. I don't know what a diagnosis would mean about things like the possibility of discrimination within the school system. As a sociology major, I don't like labels and I am uneasy about the idea of giving a label to my child (yes, I know many sociologists are all about labels and categories, but that is not how I do sociology). But as a parent who has been raising him alone for years without understanding why I can't get him to listen to simple rules, this seems to offer an explanation and new strategies to deal with his behavior.

But I have been having some trouble figuring out how I feel about it. My first instinct is relief. Relief that it is not my fault that he is acting up. Relief that my family and his teachers and behavioral therapists will no longer look at me as though I am not a capable parent, that I am too strict or too lenient, that I am just not good enough. Relief that I will not be told that I need to drop out of school to control my kid (yes, that was suggested by a behavioral therapist). Relief that I am not to blame when he acts up. Then I feel guilt. Guilty that part of me hopes that this is what is going on with him, because it is not something that is likely to go away the way shyness could. That being said, the limited knowledge that I have suggests that Aspergers would have a better prognosis than the previous suggestion that he might have Oppositional Defiant Disorder along with Obsessive Compulsive tendencies. Have I mentioned that I really despise labels?

So, what I am now trying to figure out is how can I move beyond always feeling guilty about parenting. His father doesn't feel guilty about only seeing him for 1-2 hours a week. His father doesn't feel like his lack of parenting has contributed to the problems he's been having at school and daycare. His father thinks it is because I am not a good enough parent. This is a sentiment that, although changing, I still hear echoed throughout pop culture and from teachers and family members. I feel the same way about mother blaming as I do about labels. And yet, I still always blame myself.

I guess the big question that I am facing right now is whether it is in his best interest to try and get a diagnosis. I am hesitant because I have trouble conceptualizing what Aspergers really is. I mean, it isn't something that simply shows up on an x-ray or some other physical test, but a name that covers a group of behaviors that differ from how "normal" children are "supposed to" behave. I understand that categories and classifications can be useful, but I am still trying to locate information on the benefits of not getting an official diagnosis as well.

And, to bring in a bit of a class analysis, I would like to point out that if I had a few thousand dollars to throw around, I could get the diagnosis rather quickly. I could also get all kinds of help without a diagnosis, if I wanted to pay for it. However, as a student who is surviving on a scholarship meant to support a single person and not a family, he might need an official diagnosis before I could access many of the support programs available.


  1. I would say one thing in response to this: mother labelling aside, the fact that you feel guilty about something outside of your control when it comes to your child means that you care. It means that you are interested and involved in your child's life, and that what happens to him matters to you. I also think that it's normal to feel relief; it's an answer, or at least the possibility of one. Whether it's a good or bad answer, it's still taking the weight of the unknown off your shoulders (not knowing is worse than a bad answer I think).
    In the end, the only thing that matters is whether you and your child love each other. Everything else can be dealt with in due time.

  2. Hey,

    Not sure if you read Clarissa's Blog, but she has Aspergers and has some interesting things to say about it.

  3. Thanks everyone.

    And I have visited Clarissa's Blog before, but forgot about it until you brought it up again, so thanks for this.

  4. I found a link on Feministe.

    If you're interested in learning more about Asperger's and autism (get used to the term, Asperger's won't be around as a separate diagnosis much longer anyway), why not visit the many blogs by autistic self-advocates?

    Blogs like these and their links would be a start, and FWD/Forward also has a lot of links:

    There are also quite a lot of us on Dreamwidth.

  5. Thanks Norah. I will look at these sites over the next few days.