The 12 Steps and Autism

My family doesn’t just deal with autism on a daily basis.  We also deal with alcoholism.  So for the last couple years, I’ve been attending Al-anon and ACOA (adult children of alcoholics) meetings.  I first sat in the rooms about a month or two after autism was floated as a possibility for G’s difficulties in preschool.  My husband had also been in recovery for a month or two (come to think of it, I wonder if autism may have contributed to his recovery – thoughts for another day…)  I was full of anger and resentment.  All through my life, I was the ‘good girl’ who never broke a rule or stepped out of line.  And now my life was completely out of control and I was incredibly pissed off about it.  It took me quite awhile, but the first three steps slowly started sinking in.

I admitted I was powerless over alcohol, that my life had become unmanageable.

I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.

I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of my higher power.

This is not as easy as it sounds for me, note the use of ‘higher power’ in place of the more commonly used “god.”  I’m an atheist who doesn’t believe in anything if it hasn’t been proven by science.  But I was pretty desperate to get help, so I was able to cobble together a pantheistic type theory of a connected universe and the alanon group itself as a knowledge base with answers to common problems that works for me.  When I need to ‘turn it over’ I have an image of a helium balloon with my worries tied to its ribbon, and I release it to the universe.  (it’s ok, you can laugh.  The important thing is I found a way to make it work with my cynicism.)

All my life, I had been a fixer.  Control was incredibly important to my sense of well-being so when I ran into a problem, I set myself to fixing it with all my energy, so that my peace and ease could be restored.  I fixed my problems, I fixed my husbands problems, I fixed my sibling’s problems.  But I could not fix my son’s problems and this was cause for great distress.  I did a lot of research into biomedical treatments, causes of autism, vaccines, and the like.  I feel my cynical atheistic attitude actually helped me here because I could see that the science behind these aspects was sketchy at best, and nothing I, personally, could trust.  But that left me without a way to fix things for G and that was incredibly upsetting to me. 

Then, an incredible thing happened.  While sitting in the rooms one evening after the holidays, when the transition back to school was particularly stressful and volatile for G, I substituted the word ‘autism’ for ‘alcoholism.’  I suddenly felt a great weight lift from my shoulders.  I was powerless over autism.  By trying to exert power over autism, I was causing my life to become unmanageable.  Believing in a power greater than myself, and greater than autism, could restore me to sanity.  I made a decision to turn my will over to my higher power instead of trying to exert my will on autism, and therefore my child.

This doesn’t mean I have given up on my son – I still try to help him in every reasonable way I can so that he may learn coping skills and life skills, and I advocate for him in the community until he is ready to take on the role of advocate for himself.  The key word is reasonable. I recognize that I can’t make him be different because his autism is a part of him.  I can’t make him learn faster than his own pace.  I can’t force change, it has to evolve naturally.  And the small steps we take each day toward independence will be more effective than the miracle concoctions, diet changes and assorted cures being sold to me on the internet.

I was able to put my new found theory into practice last month when G started school.  It has been one of the most challenging transitions of his school career.  (so far)  When the parents of classmates started making complaints, I became overwhelmed by the stress of it all.  So I consciously sat down and worked my first three steps with autism in mind.  And it helped enormously.  I was able to focus on doing what I could to help G and to effect change in the attitudes of the people around him.  I recognized the things I couldn’t change – specifically that G was going to have to do the work of adjusting on his own.  I could support him with checklists for his schedule, snacks to keep him energized and introductory letters to parents, but I couldn’t change G into some kind of model student.

Sometimes when I read other blogs and blog comments, I can hear the anger and frustration in the voice of the parent.  I’ve been there.  I recognize that feeling and I still struggle from time to time.  Finding a mechanism to achieve serenity has made such an incredible difference in our family.  Because I’m not as irritable, my family  is not as on edge.  We’re able to take things as they come and enjoy the good moments more fully. 

I’ll close with this final nugget:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm  Comments (11)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey LynneS…

    I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. My wife works in Autism Support professionally and she has a child with autism. (Technically aspergers).

    My wife also went to alanon before we were married. I was a couple years sober by then.

    We continually use the principles of 12 step recovery in numerous aspects of our daily life… including dealing with the affects of children with autism at home and professionally.

    I tell ya… it has made a world of difference. Acceptance is indeed such a relief. We lay down our weapons (of control, denial, etc) and accept thing as they are. We deal with what we can and surrender the rest.

    For both my wife and I, we have got more done by doing less. Sounds crazy to my way of thinking and her propensity to rescue, solve and fix.

    Now, she rescues, solves, and fixes only what she realistically can. And it is amazing how much she can. The rest is let go and amazingly, it is taken care of too.

    As “doers”, we are so often trapped by our own thinking. We have the mistaken notion that if we just do a little more, we will get more results. Yet we are often blind to the fact that we are simply making a more rigorous application of things that don’t work.

    Even Albert Einstein did not bother to memorize the periodic table of elements. He reportedly did not have a good memory in this way and stated that he saw no need to waste time in the exercise in futility … so he accepted that if he needed to know a symbol ofr an element, he could simply look it up.

    People of great achievement don’t beat their heads against walls and don’t try to push water uphill. So surrendering isnt really all that bad of an idea and we are in pretty doggone good company.

    And as for the God thing… the 12 steps work if we simply understand that there are powers in this world greater than ourselves. This, in my experience requires enough humility to know that I am not the predominant power in the universe and therefore give myself a break.

    Sharing with another person on a similar journey has been one of the powers greater than myself that I use on a regular basis. So are the experience, strength and hope of those who went before me and first developed AA and wrote their experiences out in books. Many things other than our futile thinking and behaving can be helpful powers greater than ourselves.

    These powers do not compete with my belief in God who to me is my ultimate higher power. This is simply how I experience it.

    Glad to hear you are finding some meaning and reprieve on your journey. It is pretty amazing stuff eh?



    • “We have the mistaken notion that if we just do a little more, we will get more results. Yet we are often blind to the fact that we are simply making a more rigorous application of things that don’t work.”

      Yes! This is exactly how I felt before recovery (and to be honest, I still often do. I have to fight myself at times) Thank you so much for your comment. I loved hearing that you apply the program in similar ways.

  2. What a joy it is to find out that the principles of teh Twelve Steps are applicable to our daily lives and any kind of situation. Most people don’t have this kind of “toolbox” at their disposal. From all the grief and frustration that my husband’s drinking gave me, I came to believe that his alcoholism turned out to be a great gift to me because it gave me Al-Anon.

    I started out as an agnostic and I was angry that I had been “reduced” to going to Al-Anon. But I knew immediately that I was in the right room. The group became my Higher Power for awhile. It took awhile but I finally did discover a sense of spirituality and a Higher Power of my own choosing.

    It all worked out really well but it took time. I didn’t get sick overnight and I couldnt’ get well overnight either. I am so glad I stayed in Al-Anon.

  3. I’m an attorney. It’s the very definition of “fixer.” That’s what I DO all day long, every day. So I hear your frustration, and echo it while I deal with our three special kids. We have accepted a lot of what we cannot change yet, and continue to move in a positive direction. It seems the best way to avoid total insanity as a response. 🙂

      Please check out the above blog for sharing the message of RECOVERY: Quality of Life Recovery for Parents with Children on the Autistic Spectrum. Learn how to use the 12 Step Recovery program to enhance the quality of your life and others.
      Come share your experience, strength and hope.
      Much Love in Recovery,

  4. Stumbled across this while Googling “12-step” and “autism”, at the behest of my sponsor. Your post makes a lot of sense and I’m bookmarking it. It’s unfortunate that the Al-anon fellowship in my city is so totally toxic. Perhaps there’s a way I can internalize this through my own fellowship.

  5. Thanks for the information friend

  6. I am a self proclaimed ‘Good Girl’ and fixer as well (and atheist to boot!). I didn’t realize we had so much in common! Thank you for this…do you mind if I post a link to it on my blog?

    • “do you mind if I post a link to it on my blog?”

      Not at all, please do! 🙂

      • Done! I hope you get even more traffic. 🙂

  7. I have posted this interesting article to a recovery facility website:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: