WARNING! Helicopter Moms

Helicopter Mom, Dad, or Grandparent- Def.:  Caregiver who constantly hovers over their child and those who come near …and far.

I’m breaking my anonymity:  I am a Recovering Helicopter Mom.  Really.  I mean it.  This time.  Sure, I’ve had a few slips, but you would too, if you were me.  I mean, if you won’t call autism an epidemic, you can call it one in my family.  Denial isn’t just a river in Africa, you know.

There are two aspects of being a Helicopter Caregiver:  hovering over your child, and hovering over the rest of the world that comes into contact with your child.  I’m currently undergoing renovations with the first; I’m exploring my current habit with the second.  Since it really does take a village to raise a child with autism, this piece is about how I handle that village.

It may seem like I have a sort of bad reputation, but my potential for hovering is so ripe for the taking!  Even if you have just one child with autism, think of the myriad of agencies, organizations, and institutions that you will interface with (interface, not in-yer-face) over his or her lifetime.  Take education, for instance.  If you’re anything like me, you will come in contact with tons of teachers, school secretaries, therapists, principals, special education administrators, superintendents, cafeteria ladies, board of education members, and the president of the PTA.

Look at this data from the U.S. Department of Education.  Your child is no Lone Ranger on Line 12.  Now, multiply all possible education contacts by the total number of kids with autism in public schools.  That’s a lot of collective hovering.  We’re an impressive bunch, at least in numbers.

Are my propellers effective?  Maybe and maybe not.  I’m effective if I’m confident in my son’s FAPE in an LRE where he can keep learning.  But, maybe I’m not so hot if I make those on the ground grow weary of my constant grind of machinations.  If I go on about every missed detail, it becomes white noise.  People who can make a difference for my son might stop listening.  I could also run out of gas up there with no backup.

One professional suggests synthesizing concerns to focus on what will affect my child at least one year from now.  I recently attended a training for parents impacting health care policy.  We were given an impromptu assignment of pretending to meet with a lawmaker.  We had 2 minutes to convince our legislator to support our chosen health care issue.  That was an eye-opener.

I’m also told we should learn to talk the talk as we walk the walk.  Using education again as an example, instead of saying:



I’d love it if our student could receive more direct instruction and facilitated peer interaction during Center Time.  How can we make this happen?

If you need help with your child’s education in North Carolina, check out an ASNC or ECAC workshop.  Years ago, I figured I could advocate well by swiping on lipstick, jumping into my public-speaking skirt, and slipping on high heels with the full intent to seriously kick some hiney.  I thought my love for the children would conquer all.  This was fine, but I had no goods to back up my posturing.

There is a flip side to this Helicopter issue, however…

Let’s look at it!!!

If it weren’t for Helicopter Caregivers, there would be no landmark legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, and numerous others, including the Combating Autism Act, still being played out in the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.  It’s not the helicoptering that’s bad; it’s how we fly that makes all the difference for your child and mine.  What’s especially important in lean times is how to fly together.

I’ll leave with you some Helicopter Moms I admire “from across the pond”, first featured in the Autism File.  One of them lovingly muscled her way in to see the Prime Minister.  These women created an international stir with their campaign of donning the LBD.  That’s not a special needs acronym.  That’s the Little Black Dress, and the ladies have all The Right Stuff to back it up.

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  1. Great article and true for all parents of special needs kids. Thanks.

  2. bensmyson says:

    As a \”helicopter\” dad (yes there are a few of us out there) hovering over my 3 and a half year old, I know people near him get blown away by my trailing turbulence. It really messes their hair.

    I\’m new to this, only been at it for two years but in those two years we have gone from ground zero, blank stares and no words to hugs and \”I love you daddy\” the signals are being received, all systems are still go.

    Keeping that craft floating in the sky has taken every resource we have, refueling stations are few and far between. We all know how dangerous it is to be up there.

    Family and friends have legitimate concerns because of how Ive changed, how my feet are not grounded as they once were hovering over Ben\’s earth. It\’s lonely up there especially when I can look down and see other planets where children are being nurtured and are functioning well and healthy.

    Ground control to Major Tom.

    Because of my age when Ben was born I realized that more than likely I will be gone 20 years from now, because of my health perhaps sooner. I will miss most of his life. That would leave him all alone, leave his mom all alone when the day comes for me to drift off into space, too far for radio transmissions to keep in touch. Because of that I secretly nicknamed Ben \”Rocketman.\” It was a perverse twist, he reminded me that I was a Rocketman, that I was soon to be lost in space, leaving my world behind. I felt mortal, vulnerable, fragile, I knew my time was limited, before Ben I could have cared less. Little did I know that a year later he would truly be a Rocketman, we were both Rocketmen. On Ben\’s first birthday, when he was hitting his milestones, talking, smiling, making eye contact I made him a painting that still to this day hangs on a wall. It\’s a piece of wood, painted black and with a white pastel marker that I wrote \”Ben has an idea how to do things. But he can\’t fly.\” He was a baby and he tried so hard, at times it was entertaining to watch him explore and discover new things, pioneering, moonwalking if you will. The next day he was injured and it became prophetic as did his nickname. He was lost in space and I immediately took off to find him.

    She packed my bags last night pre-flight
    Zero hour nine a.m.
    And I\’m gonna be high as a kite by then
    I miss the earth so much I miss my wife
    It\’s lonely out in space
    On such a timeless flight
    And I think it\’s gonna be a long long time
    Till touch down brings me round again to find
    I\’m not the man they think I am at home
    Oh no no no I\’m a rocket man
    Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone
    Mars ain\’t the kind of place to raise your kids
    In fact it\’s cold as hell
    And there\’s no one there to raise them if you did
    And all this science I don\’t understand
    It\’s just my job five days a week
    A rocket man, a rocket man
    And I think it\’s gonna be a long long time…

    I hear you Alison, it\’s about staying in communication with Ground Control. Roger that.

    Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom…

  3. Cathy Jameson says:

    Keep on hovering, Alison. I\’m learning that art each day and with each interaction with those on the other side. Some of those professionals *get* it, while for others, I truly only believe they are in the field of working with kids like mine to get a paycheck.

  4. jbthomas52 says:

    As a so-called \’professional\’ in this field, I know one thing that I consistently am faced with as a result of a nearly endless convoy of helicopters that I have met over the years. We \’professionals\’ want to do the right thing. However, how we respond to an incoming helicopter who actually may have insights that we never thought of before is a key. We \’professionals\’ want to know the answers. We have a responsibility to be knowledgeable. But many of us go home at night to a \’non-autism\’ home. We do not live it 24/7 like you do. And when you helicoptors live it 24/7, you end up thinking of solutions or finding problems that surprise us \’professionals.\’
    It is right there at that point where you bring to my attention something that I had not thought of – that is the crucial moment. I have two choices at that crucial moment – 1) listen, consider, let defenses down, accept the passion, and find a solution, – OR – 2) discount, label the parent (at least in your own head), defend, and take a stand.
    My friend, Gary Grigull, in a school system in Florida, said to me several years ago – everytime a parent gets upset or brings up an issue, we end up learning and the system gets better.
    Simply, we \’professionals\’ need to listen. Dr. Schopler taught me that years ago and I am forever grateful.
    So hover away! Keep looking for REAL answers.

  5. educatingowen says:

    As always, great post. So I received Time magazine the other day with the helicopter parent cover story and immediately set out to read it. Why? Becuase I wasn\’t sure if I was one or not and lord knows I didn\’t want to be considered one. (I know, how can I not know if I was such a parent?) But the whole concept and the article couldn\’t pertain to me. See, if I didn\’t hover then where would leave my children???. If being my child\’s advocate is considered hovering then I\’ll hover away. When we are so often faced, especially in the realm of education, with a system that doesn\’t recognize the rights of our children — heck a lot of the time they don\’t even recognize the NEEDS of our children — what are we as parents supposed to do?? So you hover away, I\’ll hover away (in a positive way of course) and maybe just maybe things may change. IMO.

  6. Kristine L. says:

    Alison- great post. I\’ll admit to being a helicopter mom- proudly like Nicole. I didn\’t used to be. I have two children that are 9 and 6 and I send them off to school each day to receive a fabulous public education in one of the best school districts in the country. I live in a comfortable neighborhood. Heck, I even let my daughter walk herself home from school when she was only 7 years old (it was two blocks) much to the shock of my neighbors. What can I say- she is a trustworthy and smart kid. I couldn\’t even tell you the names of their music or PE teachers. When they do an activity like soccer, I just push the button on my minivan door and let them hop out while I go run an errand. It\’s liberating and fun to have kids grow into this independence.
    Enter child with autism. Ben needs something different- he needs me to be a helicopter parent. I wish with my whole being that I could drop him off at the church preschool that my older two attended, so that he could play with his old baby playgroup friends in a rich environment with fun engaging teachers and just learn like that. (Side note: I am constantly amazed at how typical kids can do just that and learn that way- fascinating!) Not gonna happen. We are talking about a kid who had to be directly taught to crawl, walk, eat, every word, every skill…. if I was not there hovering, none of this would have happened. Society needs us moms and dads to hover and pressure our school districts to educate our kids, call up politicians to fund services, shout from the rooftops about the tidal wave of autistic kids that are zooming into adulthood.
    I had an eye opening experience this fall. It was open house night at our school which all three of my children attend. Went to my 1st graders classroom, the teacher had a very good presentation on the 1st grade curriculum- she talked about all of the key subjects and informal and formal assessments. I went to my 4th grader\’s classroom- the young energetic teacher had a multi-media presentation on the smartboard where she whipped screens here and there- she talked about reading and writing with terms like \”rubric\” and \”graphic novel\” that I had to go home and google. She also talked about the new math program that \”the district has asked us to follow with fidelity\” She also spoke about assessments to measure progress and how she recently had to re-teach a lesson because after the assessment she wasn\’t comfortable that the students had mastered the material. Both of my children\’s teachers are nationally board-certified teachers. My child with autism- his special ed autism classroom didn\’t even HAVE an open house (same school, dark empty classroom that night). And why should they? They don\’t have a curriculum to discuss. They don\’t have a new program that the \”district has asked to follow with fidelity\” (heaven forbid the district ever pick a program and I would positively faint if they ASKED a teacher to follow it, and with \”fidelity\”!!!) They don\’t have informal and formal assessments. What is there to discuss? I\’ll say it again: society needs us to be in there constantly hovering for these kids, and as always we will be cordial and diplomatic, but we will never back down.

  7. I really enjoyed the blog. Its always nice when you find something that is not only informative but entertaining. Greet!

  8. LauraB says:

    I love the term \”helicopter mom\”. It\’s great to be able to laugh WITH school teachers about it…Many understand it ,IF they are parents, as well. I love my small town school and the elementary school that can \”handle\” kids with special needs… the teachers adore my son and that matters so much…their attitude, consistency, and determination is admirable! I should know b/c I substitute teach and I SEE how much energy and positive energy is needed on a daily basis…My daughter is gifted in math and music and loved just the same. Let\’s just hope it lasts.

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