“You do not have to know what you are doing in order to begin. You just begin, and the doing teaches you what you need to know.” – Barbara Brown Taylor
The saying, “Every day is a new day,” is meant to have positive connotations about the freedom to start our lives fresh with the dawn of each new day. But for us as autism parents, there’s perhaps a more literal meaning to this saying.
Many days we wake up not really knowing much other than that the day is likely to be unpredictable. There are numerous days when we are faced with new or continually evolving challenges that we aren’t sure what to do about. And some of these challenges scare us because they involve issues that are particularly difficult emotionally like self-injurious behaviors, aggression, regression, our children escaping safe areas, or any of a number of distressing situations.
We often don’t know why these are happening or what to do to help our children. It’s in times like these when we go back into that frightened and uncertain mindset we had when our children just received their autism diagnosis. No matter how much experience we already have, we go back to being beginners.
But it’s OK to be a beginner over and over again. None of us really wants to be, but it’s important that we’re at least willing to be novices as often as we need to. Allow yourself to feel the emotions you felt in those first days of a diagnosis. You felt afraid and confused. You were anxious, if not terrified, about the future. You just wanted to do the right things for your child, but you struggled to feel like you had any idea what you were doing.
Yet if you’ve been at this for any length of time, you know that you’ve been able to learn a great deal and overcome a number of challenges already. Others who have been on this journey far longer than us have done the same, and they are available to teach us what they’ve learned.
You’ve cleared hurdles, and so have they. We can remind ourselves that we’ve done it before, and we can do it again.
If you’re afraid, then that’s OK. You’re in good company with the rest of us. Try writing down your fears. This can give you some power over them by shining light on your fears and getting them out in the open. Find other parents and allies you trust and share with them what you discover.
You’ll come to realize that we’re often afraid of and worried about mostly the same things. Our solidarity as autism parents arises from this awareness that we are scared and imperfect and trying to figure things out as best we can. We need each other, and it’s a good and wonderful thing that we do.
The beginner’s mind is about accepting that we don’t have all, or even that many, of the answers. It’s about acknowledging there’s a lot we don’t yet know. I know we’re all afraid of what might happen if we don’t know what to do, but rarely do those fears come true.
Not knowing is merely a starting point on the way to gaining the knowledge and wisdom we need. As Barbara Brown Taylor says in the opening quote, you don’t need to know what to do in order to begin. Just begin, and the doing will teach you. And I would add, just begin, and you’ll meet people along the way who will help you learn and support you in your journey.This has been true for us with autism, with cancer, and with every challenge we’ve faced.
Superheroes face obstacles, doubts, and fears, too. They each have their beginning – their ‘origin story’ – and with every great challenge, they return to that fundamental part of who they are to find a way to overcome something that seems insurmountable. There are plenty of times when they don’t really know what to do. But this is how they become super. They face the challenges, learn how to overcome them, and, most importantly, they are able to do this because they never quit. They believe that somehow they will find a way.
And, hey, you’re a superhero, too.