My choice to become stay-at-home parent was not entirely a a choice.
My son has Autism, ADHD, and sensory issues. In order to care for him, I took a break from my career. I realize not every parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum has this choice and we were lucky to have the ability to do so, but it was not easy. I know a great many other parents who are forced into the same financially difficult place.
He goes to school full time, but working during the school hours wasn’t really a possibility especially during his first few years of school. He had regular appointments, therapy, and I had to be ready to come to the school if he had an issue.
Even now, my working hours are dependent on his school hours. My husband can get him off to school in the morning, but I must be home when he gets home. I can’t put him into after school programs. I don’t trust people to attend to him with the patience and understanding he deserves. We are lucky he has a great Special Education teacher at his school and they have a very positive and adaptive approach to his care, but we’ve been through enough negative experiences with him not to trust anyone but those who have had specialized training.
When he was little and undiagnosed, we put him in child care while I was at work. I worked nights, got up with him despite my late shift, and either had a sitter or childcare start at noon. He didn’t nap, which was a huge problem for day care providers. Children with ASD have huge sleep issues. We went through several day care centers before we found a center that we could afford and could handle him, but even so, it was not the most comfortable fit.
When we moved up to Seattle when my son was four, the possibility of staying home became an option. Finances were tight, but we made it work. His preschool in Seattle was much better, but still a challenge. He had a great pair of teachers who adored him, he excelled, learning Chinese and gaining much needed social skills. But his preschool was only for a few hours a day, four days a week, so working still wasn’t an option.
When he started kindergarten, I had hopes of returning to work, but the battles with the school began with in a couple months.
I was called into the school on a daily basis. I don’t know how a working parent would have managed. Especially once my son was actually expelled from kindergarten. I was very thankful I was able to stay home with him. By this point, he was highly agitated. All the positives of his preschool were long forgotten.
When my mother came to visit, she was surprised by the change in my son. He had always been challenging, but behaviors and meltdowns had never been as bad as they were that winter. The stress and poor disciplinary skills of his very novice teacher and a vice principal with something to prove caused a great deal of harm. Even with the school psychologist on our side, fully supporting my suspicion of autism, they resisted implementing what as needed to help with the issue.
Finally, my son changed schools and was put in an Autism program which as been amazing. It took a year and a half to undo the damage done, though. His diagnosis took half a year as well, and visits to a hospital an hour a way every three months at the very least, weekly at the most.
Now that he is in second grade, he is finally in a regular classroom with an aid. We have several rounds of weekly therapy at clinics behind us, most of which are an hour drive away. I don’t know how any parent does this without help, without time, and in the early days, with a job.
My flexibility and the fact that I had access to a car helped get my son to where he is now. He is currently in his regular classroom almost full time with only pull outs for extra PE and writing help for his writing and spelling difficulties, or Dysgraphia.
Now with my son adjusting well to school, with relatively few behavioral issues, a marked decrease in appointments except for care adjustments and weekly therapy, I am able to work.
I was lucky enough to find a job at a pet store with a pet hotel where I am given flexible hours and they are happy to work with me. It’s not exactly what I had planned to be doing at this point in my life, but it’s a fun job. I get to play with and care for dogs for a few hours a day, come home in time for my by boy to get home, make a little extra money to pay off debt. It’s a relief after four years to finally be able to get ahead and finally be able to afford to fix or buy some of the things we’ve been neglecting.
I hope to get back into my chosen career of graphic design, or even into writing in a more professional capacity, but I’m okay with it if I don’t. My child is happy, taken care of, and we are able to provide for him. I am happy and content with my life just as it is.