It would be almost impossible to enumerate the many things we learn from our children, particularly those who have special needs. Infinite patience, for one. Hope. Perspective. Appreciation. Acceptance. Love. And maybe a thing or two about dinosaurs or natural disasters.

But with each of our children, special needs or not, if we really stop to think about it, we might find that one thing stands out above all else. The one thing that we really needed to learn from them, and from them alone. I wrote recently that what I have learned from Nigel is the power of belief.  More than anything else, every day of his life, Nigel has taught me to believe. But what I have learned from Aidan is just as valuable.

In a word – surrender.

We’re not conditioned to view surrender as a good thing. To most of us, it means giving up. But to me, surrender means letting go. It means letting go of that which I cannot control. It means letting go of expectations placed upon a near-typical child. It means accepting What Is. And it’s something that Aidan, even more than Nigel, has taught me every day.


Unfortunately, I don’t write as much about Aidan. This website is called Teen Autism, and Aidan was never officially diagnosed on the spectrum. He did, however, experience a significant delay in language development, necessitating speech therapy until almost age ten. But what really affected him – and still does – is his sensory processing disorder. He must have been miserable as an infant, toddler, and even a preschooler. It wasn’t until age five that he seemed to be somewhat at home in his body; he was finally talking and smiling more often than crying and yelling.

But his eating issues continued to get worse. Whereas I would call Nigel a picky eater, Aidan is a limited eater. A year ago, as he was nearing 13, I started to realize that it seemed to be a control issue with him – not to control me, but to have some control in his life. He couldn’t control that his dad, whom he idolized, lived 700 miles away. He couldn’t control that he had an autistic brother. But he could control the food that he decided to eat. So what started off as a sensory issue developed into something even more involved.

And it bothered me greatly, not just because I worried about his health and his growth. It bothered me that I couldn’t just cook dinner for my child and he would eat it. Even at age 13! It bothered me that he was a teenager and, like his brother, should have been eating me out of house and home (even though Nigel is picky, he still manages to eat a variety of foods, and in mass quantities). And it bothered me that Aidan would eat more food when he was with his father. I took him to see a counselor, and he fought me, saying, “You’re making me do something against my will!” I compromised, telling him that if he increased his dinner choices to seven things, one to rotate each day of the week, that we would stop going to the counselor. He reached that point within three weekly sessions, and although I followed through, he has since lapsed to five or six items on the rotating dinner menu.

So I surrendered.

I let go of my expectations about Aidan’s eating habits. I let go of my expectations about how he responds to having an autistic brother (hint: it’s not always noble or gracious). I had to surrender. I had to. And I thought that if he could spend more time year-round with his dad that he might start eating better when he’s with me, too.


He has been with his dad for over three weeks now. I’ve talked to him several times, and the last time I did he told me, with excitement and pride in his voice, “I’ve been trying lots of new foods, Mom! I’ve been eating a lot.” And I told him, choking back tears, that I was so glad to hear it.

And someday soon I will tell him that there is nothing I wouldn’t have done to help him to be as happy and healthy as possible. I will tell him that it’s okay that he’s not always glad to have an autistic brother, that I honor his feelings. I will tell him that I accept the fact that he eats differently. And I will tell him that I have become a more balanced person because of it, because of learning to surrender.

Aidan, age 9, being a tiki at Pu’uhonua National Historical Park, Hawaii, 2006

20 thoughts on “Surrender

  1. Elise

    I don’t think you surrenderd anything. I think you came to the conclusion that Aidan is who he is and that somewhere deep inside him is his own answers. I think we also have to come to realize that our teenagers, autistic and “NT” do what they want and need to control parts of thier lives. It is the old tug of war between adolescent and parent. But there are also times we need to understand that our children will do things at their own pace no matter what we parents want.

  2. JoyMama

    The distinction between “giving up” and “letting go” is something about which I learned a lot from my mom — as an end-of-life issue. (She was articulate about the distinction, and personified grace in letting go.) You’re so right that we’re not conditioned to acceptance, even perhaps to thinking of acceptance as an option! Thank you for your reflections, and how marvellous to hear that Aidan is eating.

    The tiki photo is magnificent.

  3. Dayna Golden

    I think that is important for the siblings of special needs children to be able to voice their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental setting. Every once in a great while I will sense that Trevor is not all together happy with a situation concerning Jeffrey and I encourage him to talk openly to me about it and I want Trevor to know that I am not always pleased about doing things a certain way where Jeffrey is concerned. I know things don’t always seem fair to Trevor but I try to point out the fun things that he get to do that Jeffrey doesn’t due to having autism.

  4. Meg

    I feel like you wrote this about my own “NT” child. She is a far more limited eater than her Autistic brother. Thank you for opening my eyes to the possibility of surrendering. She is a healthy, happy girl, and if she needs this bit of control, so be it.

    Your children are so beautiful, I hope this move continues to be a good one for all of you.

  5. Alexis McConnell

    Beautifully written Tanya….
    My growth has not been from books or tv shows .. I have learned by looking, listening and keeping an open mind and heart through the eyes and words of my children.They are grown now…and yet they are still teaching me.

  6. Jan

    What a wonderful insight, and a great model. My very-anxious 13-year-old is also a very picky eater (I think her rotation has 4 items on it), and the idea that it’s about control more than anything is one that I need to give some attention to.

    And surrender, letting go…oh my, do I need to learn those lessons!

  7. Kim

    I just love this. I love coming to read your blog! You always get me thinking. Letting go of expectations is one of the hardest things for me. And not just in relation to my son, but for myself, for my husband, for this life. I’ve been tightly wound lately and it just may have something to do with my expectations, some of them unrealistic.

    You are such a great mom.

  8. Elizabeth

    These ideas about surrender and your experiences are important for all of us to hear, I think, who have children — whether autistic or not. Thank you for such a beautiful articulation —

  9. Michelle

    As always you are so correct! Surrender isn’t necessarily bad. I sometimes see parents engaging in power struggles and I can only think, “how’s that working for you!?” 🙂

  10. Jazzygal

    That’s great news about Aidan’s eating Tanya. My WiiBoy is a limited eater too who has also made great strides . I wrote about it in a recent post: From Food Diaries….to Food Miracles.

    I too wondered, when he was younger, was it sensory or the only thing in his very young life that he could control, given that the world as a whole seemed so confusing to him.

    It’s an intersting argument, isn’t it? xx Jazzy

  11. Lilith

    I’m a picky eater but as a child I think it was about control as well. There was nothing in my life that I could control, except what went into my body. I wish I’d had a mom like you, one that would understand and accept.

  12. Alicia D

    I love your view on “surrendering” so much and I will keep this distinction with me forever. Very good post– oh and congrats on Aidan’s eating new things 🙂 YAY!

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