As a parent of a child with autism, I’ve come to notice that the development and parenting process are akin to the four stages of a butterfly cycle.
If maybe we can compartmentalise our ‘parental function,’ into what is required for those four stages, then we can support our children in the best way we can – by being the parents they need us to be when they need us to be them.
To have the faith that our children will develop through stages in their lives, no matter how dark those difficult periods may feel, but we can come out the other side.
Metamorphosis happens to everyone, but for those who experience the world a little more sensitively, then the parenting for that individual requires a more tentative approach.
The cycle of a butterfly is a very structured and yet delicate process – one that will need the right conditions in order to achieve this.
The same can be said when you have a child who is on the spectrum; the challenges may vary but the common denominator will be that they require access to unique support and understanding.
It is vital that we get it right for them – every individual has the right to flourish, not merely try to survive through life.
As parents we need to identify these stages so that our loved ones can grow to their own form of independence (however that might look).
So here are the four parts to the process I shall call Autismorphis:
1. Laying the Egg
First things first, the egg didn’t ask to be laid, it was created by those who laid it.
Once embedded, it can only trust the decision it’s guarantor made that it was planted in a safe spot.
The egg is already hardwired to hatch in exactly the way it was programmed to develop.
You can try to alter it, but the egg will inevitably stay the same.
So you have to find ways to adapt the environment that the egg has been placed in if it’s naturally finding it difficult to thrive.
Awareness of how and why the egg is there, together with acceptance of what the egg will transform to, is paramount to any of the next three stages taking place.
An egg is a beautiful organism in it’s own right and it has a function; it should not be thought any less of because it hasn’t evolved yet – it is a stage in a process.
An egg could be laid by a moth, another by a monarch. Neither one has any more credence to be accepted by the butterfly world.
There is enough space in nature for a variety of species, why do we feel the need to make each child conform into one type of human?
We must want the egg to be just as it was designed to be – an egg.
No more. No less.
Once accepted, the egg may hatch.
2. The Growth Stage
I’m yet to meet a child who doesn’t love the story of The Hungry Caterpillar, so it can’t harm us adults to revise our memories on the book.
The second stage of parenting our wee nippers should be thought of as the feeding stage – the time for our caterpillars to grow which we usually call the larva.
Just like caterpillars, our children absorb everything around us – all of the good stuff and all of the bad stuff.
The hungry caterpillar gets sick when he over eats all of the things that are bad for him and gets a terrible tummy ache.
These formative years are vital in our children’s developmental cycle and more often the point when they are made to feel they are less than their equals.
Just because they are not the same, they are thought of as different, therefore forced to feel inferior as a result.
When this happens it will have an effect on the later two stages; bringing about secondary conditions that come as a result of having their self-esteems shattered.
We must remember these extra complications are not actually the child; they are a direct result of the mishandling of the egg and caterpillar, and that they weren’t given the right environmental diet.
We must not blame them when they have their tummy ache as a result – it is our job to change that diet and make them feel healthy once again.
When they kick, or spit, or thump and shout – it simply means their little tummies are feeling extra sore.
Hungry caterpillars only have one way to tell you they are unwell and that is to shrink or keel over.
If dehydrated they can even get stuck in their chrysalis and never form into the colourful butterfly they were destined to be.
Communication of an organism not coping will always show in their physicality.
Children are natural creatures too – why should we think they behave any differently?
We need to get the growing, formative years secure so that we can move into the next stage.
So that’s why we need to stay attuned to our delicate caterpillars and adjust their environments accordingly.
Our children are extremely resilient – we just need to be able to feed them lots of love, encouragement and continuity to accelerate that extra growth.
3. The Transition Years
There isn’t a ‘Butterfly Boss’ who tells the caterpillars that it’s time to go to sleep for a while – they just know to do it all by themselves.
Likewise, our children can’t be rushed into the next transition stage (the pupa) – they need to feel ready to be able to cope with what is needed of them.
This is the time when parents need to learn to not push and allow the process of change to happen more organically.
It might not happen at the same time that it happens for all of the caterpillars but it will happen nonetheless.
When our children feel safe, warm and well fed emotionally then they will reach the stage of wanting to do this all by themselves.
Our role as parents is to not enforce our children to comply but act as mentors or guides to support them through the transitions in their life.
There can often be some challenges that prevent those chrysalides from forming.
Quite often they group together when spinning their silk, almost feeling secure by a ‘safety in numbers.’ This means they often congregate too close to one another.
When the conditions are too cramped it can affect how the butterflies hatch and can prevent them from spreading their wings.
Some children, likewise, can cope socially in large groups, yet others may just need some space to figure things out all by themselves.
There is the possiblity to move a chrysallis into a new place and help it to rehang. It is often quite remarkable the resilience they have to re-root themselves – that tiny thread of silk is incredibly stronger than we think and testamount to the powerful process of recovery.
An interim measure also is to put a protective arm around our chrysalis – we need to think of it like a vessel in which the caterpillar can transform safely into a butterfly.
The more protection parents, professionals and their peers give them, the more chance they have of those wings forming as they were destined to form.
4. Drying those wings
When a butterfly first breaks free from it’s chrysallis, it needs the space and time to dry both of it’s wings in order to fly.
We need the first three stages for the butterfly to nourish and grow, equipping themselves for adulthood, so that they can cope independently.
Not every child with autism will be able to live by themselves by the time they are an adult. Again, acceptance of what the egg was destined to be at the beginning of this process is paramount to where we are now.
However, through those transitions we are able to prepare them, with the right amount of tools to manage as best they can – to give them every hope of their own version of independence.
When the parent fully understands their child and what makes them tick, then they will be able to transfer that knowledge to those who may look after them for the future.
The care system can only provide a symmetrical mirror to parenting our beautiful butterflies using the information that we give them.
However, it can often be this part of the process that fails our butterflies; as those who they come into contact with often lack the understanding and training that is so desperately needed to support individuals with autism.
Parents are the source of knowledge when it comes to knowing our loved ones inside and out – we are the nectar that they sip from.
We already know what makes them trigger, what makes them happy and what it is they need.
A collaborative approach to supporting them is key so that they can adapt their lives as and how they choose to.
Autismorphis does not mean that our children need to be altered.
Rather it signifies the changes that they go through into adulthood and how we can better understand and support them so that they can just be the adults they were destined to be.
If we can get this right, then just maybe our butterflies will fly.