An African perspective: Balancing corporate life and mothering a child with autism

by Tia

I am a proud mother to my twelve year old son Solly, who is on the autism spectrum. Whilst raising my unique little square peg single-handedly, I am also a full-time public relations professional. In this mix, I stand at the intersection of two worlds: the corporate sector and the journey of raising a child with autism as a Xhosa native, where societal understanding of autism is still evolving.

Creating a balance can be particularly challenging at times. There have times when I have had to leave meetings and rush to my son’s school to attend to emergencies that relate to my son’s health issues. This can be complicated if your work environment does not foster flexibility, and if you are not completely honest about your child’s needs to your employer. My advice here is to be open and transparent.

After a decade spent as a mom with a child on the spectrum, this Autism Awareness Month, I am compelled to share insights on how African corporate mothers parenting children with autism can navigate the complexities of balancing work and motherhood in this unique cultural landscape.

My son has taught me the importance of practicing a routine, which has helped me thrive in managing my schedule at work. This way I am able to manage his needs at school, attending his therapy sessions, medical appointments, as well his extra murals. My number one tip is learn from your child and understand that your circumstance at home is your normal. Children on the spectrum love to know what is going on and are not too keen on surprises, so let your child know what you are doing on a daily basis.

For example, on my work-from-home days, Solly knows mommy has a meeting on Thursdays at 11am. With this on his radar, he gets on with his tasks that I have prepared for him for the day. If he is on holiday or when he gets home from school, the first thing he will ask me is how my meeting was.

Embrace cultural sensitivity. It is an opportunity to educate.

Solly and I have learned to embrace cultural sensitivity, which has the potential to negatively impact yours and your child’s mental health. Before my son was diagnosed in 2013, I knew nothing about autism and had to learn by reading and talking to other parents who were managing children on the spectrum. With this in mind, I am always prepared to educate others about it to foster understanding in our social circles.

Another issue is language. Speech therapy and early intervention programmes may influence your child’s language development, as they might have to navigate between English in therapy and Xhosa or other home languages at home. It is essential to celebrate and preserve their linguistic diversity while supporting their communication needs. It took Solly three years of speech therapy to get his first word out at the age of five. Today he speaks three languages so I encourage parents to be patient.

Connect with other parents. Share experiences and strategies for support.

Prioritise self-care to navigate the unique challenges of balancing career aspirations with the demands of motherhood and autism parenting. Seek out support networks, engage in stress-reducing activities, and practice self-compassion to sustain your well-being and resilience in the face of adversity.

I have a mom support group that meets once a month and we all have children on the spectrum. This group is my lifeline. It is so important to find other moms, and lean on them for support. Tap into community resources and support networks for families affected by autism in your area. Engage with autism advocacy groups, and access therapy services. You can also visit Autism Resources South Africa , a newsletter about autism parenting and also stocks sensory toys.

It is very important to build a holistic support system that addresses your child’s unique needs, while empowering you to thrive in your career. This may include childcare arrangements, therapy services, respite care, and family support networks that cater to both your professional and parenting responsibilities. We have been actively doing play therapy with Michelle King who specialises on children on the spectrum. These sessions build positive social skills for Solly.

Champion awareness and advocacy

Take an active role in raising awareness and advocating for greater understanding and acceptance of autism within your workplace, community, and beyond. Be brave and challenge stereotypes to promote inclusive practices that celebrate diversity.

As we celebrate World Autism Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to creating a more inclusive and supportive world for individuals with autism and their families, bridging cultural divides and fostering acceptance, understanding, and empowerment for all.

Together, we can navigate the complexities of balancing work and motherhood, while celebrating the unique strengths and contributions of every individual, regardless of neurodiversity.

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