I’m the mother of an autistic child. I’m not an autism mom. What’s the difference? Well, autism mom is an identity. It’s a community and an ethos and a whole lot of baggage that I just can’t even deal with. Autism moms insist that you use person-first language and call their kiddos “children with autism”, never “autistic children”, then call themselves “autism moms” without the slightest trace of irony. Moms who are autistic themselves have had to come up with different terminology, because the obvious choice has been taken by non-autistic mothers of autistic children.
These are the moms (and less often dads) blogging about every detail of their autistic child’s life – their diet, their meltdowns, their toilet mishaps. They’ll probably include cutesy stories in between the privacy violations. But what they’ll do most of all is talk about how hard their job is. They call themselves “warrior moms” and “superhero moms”, battling either against schools/therapists/insurers or against autism itself. They want everyone to know that there’s nothing in the world harder or requiring more personal sacrifice than raising one of those kids.
Parents of newly diagnosed autistic children will find these blogs when they Google for personal stories about their child’s new label. There they will read that autism moms have stress levels similar to combat veterans. They won’t see analysis of the relative levels of other moms – like moms of multiples, single moms, disabled moms, moms of color, moms in poverty, moms of children with terminal or potentially fatal conditions like cancer or epilepsy.
They will only see post after post, meme after meme, saying that parenting an autistic child is the hardest thing a person can do. This won’t give them hope or guidance or tools. It won’t teach them to appreciate their child or how to better understand them. It may start them on the path of trying to “cure” their child by any means imaginary, from extreme diets to abusive behavior training to bleach enemas (yes, they’re a thing and as dangerous as you would guess.)
Acting as if parenting an autistic child were unlike parenting any other type of child in the world limits the possible support network for autism moms. They can only talk to each other since “no one else will understand”. It keeps them from gaining positive outside perspectives and makes negative insider perspectives harder to escape. A sort of echo chamber forms and group behavior starts to deviate from wider social behavior norms. Oversharing, overcomplaining, and making violent jokes are all more tolerated and even encouraged in autism mom spaces than mom groups as a whole.