The Peculiar Loneliness of Parenting an Atypical Child

For outsiders, it’s easy to assume we haven’t tried

Rachael Hope
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readAug 2, 2019

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Photo: CG-Photos/Getty Images

WeWe arrive at the beach house at 4 p.m. after a six-hour car ride. We walk in to semi-organized chaos, as the grandparents, aunts, and uncles are already getting ready to head down to the beach to stake out a spot to watch the prolific, awe-inspiring fireworks display that ramps up after dark. Before the tension of a family in a car together for an extended period begins to dissipate, we are being asked when we’re heading down. This is where the dilemma begins.

The fireworks are too much for our 13-year-old son, Sam. Since he got the provisional diagnosis of PDD-NOS at age five, he has grown and changed a lot but he still doesn’t qualify as neurotypical. Some issues have come and gone, such as speech delays and ticks, vocal stimming, and echolalia. The traits and sensitivities that remain are not always apparent to people who don’t spend much time with him, or those who don’t have experience parenting a child who isn’t typical.

My anxiety begins almost immediately. It’s mild, but I don’t spend enough time in close quarters with Scott’s family for it to be nonexistent. I enter into a cycle of irritability, guilt about that irritability, and self-consciousness as we are offered earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones. Every time I turn down another offer for help, I feel worse about saying no. I know people are just trying to help but I also know they don’t really understand. Our son won’t tolerate earplugs. My boyfriend’s guess is that part of Sam’s aversion to the fireworks is about their percussion.

I’m not comfortable leaving Sam for five to six hours in an unfamiliar house where the lack of cell coverage and Wi-Fi means he would have no way to reach us. We talk about bringing him back later and dropping him off, but it’s a half-an-hour drive each way to the beach they like best for prime fireworks viewing. We discuss one of us staying at the house with him; the inevitable result is that our family will be separated for a good part of the holiday.

Eventually, we decide to head down to the beach together. He makes it until about 7:30 p.m. before he’s asking when we’re heading back to the house. Then we must face our delayed decision of who will…

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Rachael Hope
Human Parts

Polyamorous, loud laughing unapologetic feminist, rad fatty, and epic sweet tooth.