When Family Members Don’t Embrace Autism

Typically I wouldn’t be worrying about this until November, but as for the next two weekends we’ve got engagements with my in-laws, I am. My relationship with my in-laws is complex and multi-faceted, especially considering that Andy has a large extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc. But my latest challenge has been the fact that my mother-in-law does not believe autism is a real condition and does not accept that Buddy is autistic.

In some ways there has been progress. With the exception of my SIL, who has four kids and realized that Buddy was not developing typically and did not disparage our concerns, my in-laws thought we were being paranoid with our concerns about Buddy when he was a toddler. Before Sissy was born they said he wasn’t talking because he was an only child and none of his cousins lived close by (we live an hour away from them), even though he was in daycare several days a week, and the fact that he wasn’t talking was only one thing I was worried about.

I was extremely nervous during the holiday season last year, which is when we see them the most and when Buddy’s autistic traits were becoming undeniable and more apparent. I was worried about being blamed, and I was worried about them mistreating Buddy for being autistic. We had just officially gotten the autism diagnosis for Buddy, and I put it in the holiday newsletter and announced it on Facebook so the family was very aware of it.

And to my great relief, once he was officially diagnosed, Andy’s cousins and sister were real supportive and encouraging about it. Several of them work with children and started applying some things they’d learned about children with autism to interacting with him and did a good job engaging with him. I was not expecting the support and it was a wonderful surprise.

But there were two exceptions. My brother-in-law and my mother-in-law.

BIL seldom shows up to the family gatherings anymore, so overall I’m not so worried about him, though, we’re still reeling from him telling us nothing was wrong with Buddy at the beginning of the year when we told him we couldn’t lend him $5,000 because we had to pay for Buddy’s therapy. It was tactless, especially since he hasn’t seen Buddy for two years, for him to make such a statement. But since I can’t even remember when the last time I saw him was, and since I doubt he’ll make many appearances this year, I’m not worried too much about him.

MIL is more problematic. She does not believe autism is a real condition, and thinks it’s just bad parenting and socializing. Further, even if some kids get it in her mind, Filipinos do not (she immigrated from the Philippines). In her mind, Filipinos are genetically too social to be autistic. Also in her mind being shy is a crime and she has stated several times that the thing she fears most is the have a shy grandchild (this was before my children were born).

There’s a lot that is cultural, and a lot that is my MIL being my MIL. But the end of it is she does not believe Buddy is autistic. Further, she was mad at me for announcing on Facebook and in the holiday newsletter that he is autistic and has shunned me and my kids for most of the year as a result of it.

My MIL is a peculiar person herself, and I’ve often noted that while she loves her kids and grandkids, she does not like the work that goes into being a mom or caring for them. After raising four kids of her own and helping her daughter with her four children, she just does not have a lot of interest in doing much with my children, and the sad thing is that I see that as a good thing. Because when she does interact with Buddy she is flummoxed and frustrated by how he won’t let her direct the play activities. She is also very controlling so Buddy’s lack of interest in following her lead is maddening for her.

Throw in the fact that she is exhibiting the early stages of Alzheimer’s with the mood instability and forgetfulness, and it makes for a tricky situation.

So I’m hoping to get through all of the October and holiday stuff with MIL not paying much mind to Buddy or continuing to shun us because it has all of the factors of a powder keg that is about to explode. I can’t change her and I can force her to accept that Buddy is autistic, but I’m also real protective of who Buddy interacts with as a result. I want to keep him with supportive, accepting people for as long as possible. Fortunately Andy agrees with me that Buddy can’t ever be alone with his mother. My own parents are very involved grandparents and fortunately I don’t think Buddy notices a gap, but as he gets older and more aware I’m not sure how he’ll take it.

Granted, I had one set of involved grandparents and one that weren’t so involved, and I just always took it as the problem was with the uninvolved set (their shunning was religious based), so Buddy may just shrug it off like I did.

But it’s also sad when one of those unaccepting people is his own grandmother. And overall I just want to travel during the holidays to get away from the family gathering stuff.



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