“Mom, Can You Schedule a Colonoscopy for Me?” Snowplow Parenting and the Autistic

Now, let me give you some background: A person who needs a colonoscopy scheduled is usually around 50 years old. By that time, it’s a good bet their parent needs care themselves, if not already dead. That is often the problem with autistic people: their parents worry a lot about who will care for their child when they die. I’ve got a radical idea: why not prepare the autistic child to be capable of caring for themselves?  

Now, I know what you are saying: there are autistic people who still need 24-hour care. Perhaps you could teach and schedule somebody to trust with your child in that case…but I’m not talking about that case. I’m talking about an autistic person who can be taught to care for themselves. If you teach them to access community supports out there, and be their own advocate in a hateful and prejudiced world, you might not have to be the usual Snowplow Parent.  

I referenced Snowplow Parenting earlier, because it is common in parents of autistic children. Snowplow parenting is the parenting style that does everything for the child, moving all obstacles to success out of the way, like a snowplow. The trouble with that is, the child emerges into adult age unable to deal with obstacles themselves, needing the parent to care for them throughout their life, even when the parent needs care themselves. Now, many autistic adults have had to learn to “adult” as adults. That, my friends, is much harder to do than learning how to take care of yourself in childhood. You’ve heard the saying, “It is easier to raise a strong child than repair a broken adult,” right? It’s a saying for a reason.  


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Autistic woman in her 40s, bringing attention to issues that affect her and her kind.

4 thoughts on ““Mom, Can You Schedule a Colonoscopy for Me?” Snowplow Parenting and the Autistic”

  1. That’s so weird, I was about to write a blog post today arguing just the opposite of this. Namely that there’s no shame in being an adult autistic and still needing others eg your parents, to do things for you. That you are not “broken” as a result. That humans are meant to be interdependent, not independent. We all worry about what will happen to our autistic kids after we die. But that fear shouldn’t lead us into pushing them to be independent at the cost of their mental health.
    It’s certainly a balancing act.

  2. One thing I think might be worth pointing out here (really, this post seems to have come along at an appropriate time for a lot of people – I was giving a talk on “Independent Living” to a group of autistic folks earlier this week!) is that while independent living is a good goal, it doesn’t have to mean “living on your own”. In the same way, living independently doesn’t have to mean “living entirely without support from anyone else”. You’re allowed to ask for help, and you’re allowed to accept help if it’s offered.

    (I’ve been living independently for about twenty years now – and for most of that time, I’ve been living with my partner. We’re both on the spectrum, we both have things we can do and things we can’t do, and luckily enough for the pair of us, they’re pretty much complementary – if I just can’t be having with a thing, he can usually handle it, and vice versa. But it took a while to get to the point where we were able to figure this out, or even figure out that there was something to be figuring out).

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