Tiger Mom: Special Needs Edition

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Author Amy Chua’s book created a firestorm in the parenting community and blogosphere, adding a new battle-chapter to the ongoing Mommy Wars.

But as a parent to a child with autism, I know there are many of us who also drive our children through (and to) extreme or excessive therapies. Why? Because, “I know what’s best for my child.”

OT, ABA, RDI, DIR, PRT, B12 shots, riding with horses, swimming with dolphins, or dancing with wolves: I’m the first one to try them all if there’s a reasonable chance it might help my son. I know I am not alone in this. Every few months, there’s another news article about yet another child with autism who died from chelation, due to parents’ desperate reach for a cure.

I am not passing judgement judging or condemning.  My child was diagnosed with autism at age 2.5. In the season most toddlers should be napping or wiling away unstructured days at the playground, library or McDonald’s, mine was in intensive therapy upwards of eight hours a day. That meant I was in therapy for upwards of eight hours a day.

Countless times, he cried, threw tantrums, or frantically tried to escape. Other times, his head would bob and weave from fatigue, eventually arriving at stasis on top of the flash cards, wooden blocks or table top. Truth be told, there were countless times my head bobbed and weaved. I wanted to cry, tantrum or escape. At such times the therapist would nervously glance up at me as if to ask, “Should I keep going?” The answer was always Yes. Sometimes it was a bleary Yes, other times it was a resolute Yes. But it was always a Yes.

I was not gunning for Carnegie Hall or Harvard by age 18. By age 18, I was determined to have my child sit and attend to teaching for longer than 20 seconds, toilet himself independently, and use more than 10 words. “Obsessed,” I drove him mercilessly towards these.

“Cry all you want. We WILL do drills all night. Neither of us will go to the bathroom until you master that my name is, ‘Mommy.'”

“I WILL feed you Flaming Hot Cheetos and withhold this water, until you use words to ask for it.”

Considering that my three-year old was documented as clinically retarded, my methods may have been more Draconian than Ms. Chua’s. Why? Because,

“I know what’s best for my child.”

As as result of the Wall Street Journal excerpt, the Western parenting world considers Ms. Chua a haughty demoness, a hard-driving task-master of the worst kind. I posit there’s an even more extreme variety: The Tiger Special Needs Mother, who also happens to be “Chinese” (Asian).

I read that Amy Chua grew up with three high-achieving siblings, one of whom has Down Syndrome. That sister won two gold medals in swimming at the Special Olympics. I’m guessing the same Tiger approach the elder Mrs. Chua took with her typical daughters, she also applied towards her disabled child, but in modified measure. Perhaps, perhaps not. More than hearing about Ms. Chua’s superior/ambivalent parenting methods, or the success stories of her over-achieving children or siblings, that’s the story I want to know about.

Why? Because my son excels at swimming, too. He may not know it yet, but I do. After all,

“I know what’s best for my child.”

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