Alicia Trautwein discovered that she was autistic as an adult. Now, she is navigating life with four children, three of whom also have autism.
As a child, I knew I was different. However, I was not sure why, or what that difference was, and it was not until the age of thirty-three that I understood that I was autistic. Like many women my age, autism was a diagnosis that was unheard of for girls, and it was not even a word in my vocabulary until I was fifteen!
The one thing I did know, even from an early age, was that I was going to be a mother and a writer. I knew I wanted daughters so that I could dress them in matching pink dresses, and I knew that I would be a writer. While my journey to achieve those life accomplishments was rather different than what I imagined, I did reach those goals – and then some!
When people find out that we are a family of six, with four of us being autistic, there are mixed responses. All three of my biological children are autistic, and people often feel sorry for us. Others respond with comments wondering why we would keep having children with the knowledge that they have a high chance of having autism. A few have even been baffled to find out that someone with autism can have children!
My response to those who feel sorry for us is simple; don’t. While our family dynamic is far from perfect, it works amazingly for us. Our children talk to us about everything, both the good and the bad. We accept each other as we are, while pushing each other to grow and learn. We love, we laugh, we cry, and we annoy each other, just like any other family.
The answer to the second question is much more complex. Our story is unique in more ways than just the amount of family members with autism. Firstly, we did not know we were a family with four autism diagnoses until after my youngest child was born. He received his diagnosis at twenty-three months, my youngest daughter was diagnosed at eight years old, my middle daughter was eleven, and I was thirty-three – we were diagnosed in consecutive order. Although I did not know that our children would have a high chance of autism, I can honestly say I would have had them regardless. None of us can predict what our child will be like, nor go back to change anything. Do I wish my children could be free of autism? Absolutely! No one wants their child to struggle. However, while we cannot change these things, we can love and accept the children we have.
Though that question is already outlandish, the third question is genuinely mind-boggling. Being autistic does not affect your ability to have children, and how significantly someone’s autism affects their ability to parent depends on the individual, just as it would a neurotypical person.
Being an autistic mother with autistic children means facing many challenges. These challenges are very similar to the ones that neurotypical mothers with autistic children face. When it comes to having autistic children while being autistic, the key is learning to balance the needs of your family as a whole. You cannot leave out caring for anyone, including yourself, if you want the house to run relatively smoothly.
One of the biggest struggles we face daily is sensory overload. Each of us has a different presentation of autism, and our son is sensory-seeking. Though he is only five, he is the size of a seven- or eight- year-old, and he’s very strong. He crashes into couches, walls, and people to get the sensory input he needs. When he is upset, he pinches either his skin or mine. He is loud, strong, and has extreme likes and dislikes. My daughters are vastly different, both from him and from each other. Our youngest daughter is also sensory seeking and loud, but she uses smaller ways to seek input, such as twirling and hugs. While she seeks sensory input when overwhelmed, she cannot handle unexpected touch or noises. Our oldest autistic child is quiet, sensory avoiding, and truly likes almost anything. Though she is drastically different in daily aspects, her meltdowns are often the most severe.
What triggers one child is often another child having a meltdown. Many parents are familiar with this scenario, especially those with multiple children with disabilities. Being autistic does not exclude me from this, but it does complicate the situation. When there is a substantial amount of crying or screaming, I find myself becoming overwhelmed. While I try my best to respond correctly, there are times that I yell or cry myself. Just like my children, I cover my ears or shake when surprised.
Working through the zones of regulation, visual schedules, fidgets, breathing exercises, and sensory breaks, we work to prevent getting to meltdowns. Those skills are ones that I have to practice and learn for myself, all the while teaching them to my children. Learning self-regulation and flexibility is a must. However, they are skills that are learned through continual practice and throughout life.
Being an autistic mother of autistic children is complicated. The biggest thing I can give my children, though, is my experience. I can relate to them, understand their struggles, and help them thrive.