On November 3, 2012, the Lancaster County Autism Mommies, The Tommy Foundation, and Autism Spectrum Connections sponsored a parent workshop which I facilitated about taking care of your marriage while raising a child on the autism spectrum. Everyone present, myself included, learned how appreciating your partner can lead to necessary conversations that have been difficult to impossible to have.
The day began with men and women attending two separate workshops. I facilitated a fathers group where men opened up about their shattered visions after the autism diagnosis. The men also discussed why it would be hard to be a mother raising a child with autism. Simultaneously, psychotherapist Roane Funk facilitated a mother's group about finding the balance from hope to acceptance. The women had a conversation about why it would be hard to be a father.
The initial workshops warmed up the participants for what was to come. After taking a break, both groups came together as couples in the workshop I then facilitated. The men's group led off by sharing why they thought it would be hard to be a mom while the women listened. The women took their turn after the men.
Then I asked everyone present to share what they appreciated about their partner. For example, women heard men who appreciated their leadership in caring for the child they both love dearly. Men also showed appreciation for how hard it is for a mother to take a break. Men heard how women understood their pride was wounded especially when they could not fix or protect their families. Men and women alike talked about how there was less closeness between them while living in a crisis mode. There was incredible tenderness in the room as couples came together for a group photo.
A week later I talked to Shelley Koch, the president and cofounder of the organization. The Lancaster County Autism Mommies is concerned about taking care of the whole family while raising a child on the spectrum. This includes taking care of the couple and the typically developing siblings. Shelley observed how the experience people had in the workshop inspired conversations later.
According to Shelley, when you hear that your partner understands, you are willing to be more vulnerable. This openness makes it possible to engage in the kind of conversations that can solve prickly problems and restore some of the closeness lost while living in a crisis mode. Our morning together was the beginning. Of course, it is up to each couple to find the support they need to take care of their marriage and family.