How can I help my daughter who has overcome many obstacles in her life so far?

Tell Me About It: Let her see you engage with life and pull enjoyment and joy out of it

PROBLEM: There comes a time in every parent’s life, when you realise there is a time that you cannot help your children in certain aspects of their lives.

I am in this position at the moment with my daughter – who is on the autism spectrum – is in her mid-twenties and is a graduate in game design and development – with distinction. She has, over the course of her life, overcome many obstacles, particularly in the past seven years the loss of her mother due to cancer, a mother she loved and adored, which meant that the course in college, which normally takes two years, took nearly four years to complete.

This is coupled with the loss of her brother (whom she loved and adored also) who has gone his own way in life and whom we may never see or hear from again. I find it very difficult sometimes to contemplate what the future holds for her. I don’t really care about myself, with the death of her mother a light went out in my life which cannot be replaced.

But I am constantly thinking about how I can be there for my daughter. Since she qualified from college, she has been rejected for every single one of the positions she has applied for. She believes, rightly or wrongly, that her autism is a major reason for these rejections. It would seem that the question of disability is still a huge factor in going forward in her life. Yet, a feature of autism is that the individual concerned can be incredibly focused on something that they put their minds to. If only someone could see how focused, hard-working, friendly, intelligent and determined she is and give her a chance to gain experience in the workplace, she would be a real asset to any company.

Time is not on my side, there is only the two of us. All I want is to see her move on with her life as all her closest friends have done – they have likewise finished college and are now working away and making a life for themselves.

ADVICE: Your letter is poignant because what you describe is a world that is not open to the opportunities that people on the autism spectrum can offer. Your daughter shows a determination and a capacity to overcome adversity that is commendable and I wonder if this could now be harnessed to equip her to improve her interview and CV skills. There are many courses available in this area, or if these are not suitable many life coaches specialise in helping people hone their communication competencies. I agree that if she gets past the interview stage, her particular qualities will benefit any organisation.

You and your daughter sound very close and I wonder if your joint despair, at the loss of a mother/wife and a brother who has cut himself off, has not increased the sadness and hopelessness in both your lives. You ask how you can be there for your daughter and the answer is probably to model for her how to make meaning of your life. As you get older, life has to become worth living and your daughter needs to see her mentor and father engage with life and pull enjoyment and joy out of it. Do you have enough purpose and love in your life?

If your daughter sees you isolated or lonely it may be having a negative effect on her. As you reach out and take risks in connecting with people, your daughter can learn that optimism and courage are an effective way of making meaning in life and her capacity to shine in her own life will be enhanced.

Acceptance is the first step to creating change

You say that your daughter has friends, even if they are moving on with their lives, so this means that she has capacities to socially connect that perhaps you could learn from. You could set targets for both of you to reach: join a group; volunteer locally; offer to help with a sports or children’s club. Then you can compare notes about how you are doing and set new and achievable goals for each other.

Acceptance is the first step to creating change. Your daughter has to accept her condition before she can begin taking the steps that will enhance her life. You too need to accept the sadness and loneliness in your life before beginning to meet your own needs. The task of accepting our lot is one that is common to most humanity and with this simple step comes options for development and change.

You have so much faith in your daughter’s capacity for a good and connected life, perhaps by exercising some faith in your own abilities, you will create these possibilities in your small family and thus get what you so long for.