Attachment Parenting and autism.
Do they seem at odds with one another?
For those who don't know, here's a quick definition:
"Attachment parenting (AP) is a parenting philosophy that proposes methods which aim to promote the attachment of mother and infant not only by maximal maternal empathy and responsiveness but also by continuous bodily closeness and touch."
Attachment parenting - Wikipedia
Going by stereotypes of us, we shouldn't be able to 'do' empathy and bodily closeness very well at all.
Going by my experiences and that of autistic mothers who are friends and family, this isn't strictly true.
Attachment Parenting is one of many approaches to raising children but one I'm discussing because it's been quite the hot topic the last few years.
Behaviours and practices include:
- Positive discipline/'Gentle Parenting'
- Baby-led weaning
- Extended breastfeeding
So, what's this got to do with autism?
Personally, I think AP and autism interact with each other on many levels. When we hyper-focus, many of us autistic Mums WANT to overload our senses with everything we can get from this wonderful new person. But doing this on our own schedule and having breaks from constant touch can be difficult if that's all baby knows.
Conversely, some people believe attachment parenting can offer more options for a type of 'freedom' that other alternative methods seem to lack.
Take the following examples:
Baby-led weaning: allowing baby to discover their own feeding habits themselves can be a more relaxed affair. For me, giving individual foods like pieces of broccoli and cheese, takes away the detective work I'd have to do if I were to give a purée that the baby refused. I wouldn't have to guess which ingredient they didn't like because they're (often) separate elements.
Same goes for texture aversions. A lot of us autistic folk have them and understand them deeply. Giving individual food textures can help ease and understand your babies 'food personality'. Studies show this method makes fussy-eating less likely but I think some data has been called into question so won't link to anything here.
Gentle parenting: Quite a contentious issue for a lot of people. I feel like I use a lot of GP techniques as well as more 'traditional' ones I was raised on, because a tailored combination is what my toddler responds to most. He doesn't respond well to extrinsic reward, he's happy enough in his own bubble thank you very much! Letting him make mistakes allows him to learn of consequences more quickly because his stubborn 'threenager' mindset means he wants to do everything himself.
However, as an autistic toddler, he prefers black and white, 'yes' and 'no'. Negotiating is one thing but too many options leave him stressed. He is so headstrong that he believes he can teach himself to unlock the front door and walk outside without a care. His confidence right now needs me to prevent some consequences rather than critique them through messy play (joke).
Sling-wearing: It's not something I've done because I have fibromyalgia and inflammatory arthritis as well as SPD that hasn't gone yet. My bones don't not want to hear about it!
But I can see it as a divisive concept for autistic Mums. Again it comes down to what makes Mum and baby happy: if you seek out, or need a break from, constant touch... both are ok!
Sometimes I find it hard to be physically detached from the baby, other times I have hyper-aware days.
Yesterday was one of those days. The sun was too bright, it felt like it burned. All the noises were too loud, I could smell everything too strongly and I hated being touched. I walked the baby in his pram, he slept through this bad phase until I found somewhere shaded and quiet to pick him up and reconnect. If AP is what you want to do, tailor it to you and baby and let the Mum Guilt dissipate.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. Being autistic also adds to the experience. I'd hate to think this piece is me pontificating, because advice is all-pervasive from the moment you get pregnant.
What this is, is an opinion piece, written because I haven't read anything similar as an autistic mother. It's not in-depth, it's not world-changing, you may hate it. But I'm unlikely to get into lengthy debates about it because I still have a threenager who wants to debate the colour of the sky and a seven-month-old who's feeding the dog scrambled egg.
Thanks for reading x
P.s. You may have noticed I've not offered any view on wether AP is right for you and your autistic child. I won't ever do that. Every child is different. You do you, you're good at it ;)