Autism, parenting, and learning from my mistakes

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Matthew more than survived my autism parenting mistakes

My son Matthew is approaching his 28th birthday. That would make me a well seasoned autism mom who has learned from doing and  making a zillion mistakes along the way.

Here is a partial list of key mistakes that I have learned from:

  • Stressing math and reading at every IEP meeting. What good was math and reading if  Matthew couldn’t connect with his teacher and his classmates? If I could do it over again, I’d encourage his teacher, his aide, and everyone in his therapeutic circle to engage with him in a relationship based way.
  • Finishing Matthew’s sentences. People learn nothing if you are always finishing their sentences. I’ve learned it is better to be patient, and to wait…….and to  listen.
  • Being the parent who was “better” with Matthew. “You’re better with Matthew,” my husband used to say. So I was exhausted and resentful. I should have demanded that Peter “be better” too. I did, eventually, and now we are (almost) even, and that is the way it is supposed to be.
  • Hoping (even assuming) that Matthew’s siblings would be movies-made-for-TV-super-siblings. They are currently in the super category, but it was a process.
  • Trying too hard to “make things right” for Matthew’s siblings during difficult times.
  • Not getting professional help when I was overwhelmed. “Talking to a therapist is not going to fix anything. I just have to tough it out.” Not true.
  • Not connecting the members of Matthew’s treatment team. Why didn’t I do that? We were all managing Matthew’s challenges in different ways. It must have been so confusing for him.
  • Doing too much for Matthew. Not only was Matthew capable of doing so much, he loves working and the praise that follows.
  • Leaving Matthew with a sitter that I wasn’t sure about. Ugh.

Enough for now. I’m sure I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and remember more.

What have you learned from your autism parenting mistakes?


Next time: Autism parenting then vs. autism parenting now.

You might also find the following posts helpful:

10 things to be aware of about autism

Advice for parents of newly diagnosed children

On autism moms 



Need advice? Schedule a call with me.

About the author

Laura Shumaker is a nationally recognized writer, autism and disabilities advocate. Her essays have appeared in many places, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR, and in a popular autism and disabilities blog for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s the mother of three terrific sons, and her oldest son, Matthew, is the subject of her book A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism.


  1. Mary McKinney says

    I have done too much for my son when he was quite capable of doing it himself, but I never ASKED him to do it. If I had, I would have found he was able. So now I try at the age of 9, to let him do more.

    I worried too much. He’s going to grow up in spite of my parenting mistakes, so I needed to have more confidence that he would be ok.

  2. says

    Hi Laura, I love your posts. So real to me. My Matthew was born brain damaged in 1970 and was never really diagnosed with anything specific – bandied about were: autism, (he had many symptoms)intellectual disability, (they used the “R” word) cerebral palsy and spastic. He was declared a “vegetable with a heartbeat” by a pediatrician shortly after birth. Matt lived to be forty. In his short, spectacular life he attended local integrated schools, lived with a single mom for fifteen years in his own home, learned to swim and had a paper route.
    I would love to communicate with you. We have so much in common. I have written a book about Matthew’s remarkable life (the royalties are going to charity).

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