Parents of autistic children, even children who are considered high functioning and therefore have a better prognosis and sometimes need less intensive care, have a real problem. They have parenting challenges bigger than the average parent's. They live with a bigger uncertainty about their children's future in this world. They have to make a much bigger effort to make sure their children are well and happy. They have expenses that are usually much bigger than most parents'. As an added "bonus", some autistic children have physical challenges that require special medical care.
So, these are real problems -- or challenges in PCese. But then there are problems that people are too happy to acquire for a high price and without a really good reason to do so.
When my son Tal was 4, he went to a daycare that was a part of the child-psychiatry unit of a big hospital. The daily commute to that excellent daycare was back-breaking for me, literally; it meant an extra two hours on the road from home to school and from school to work and back again. After a few months I felt physically more tired than I've ever been, and my back was killing me from sitting behind the wheel for so long. That was a real problem, but I was willing to accept it for the two years in which he was going to that place, because it was a good school, and the alternative of sending him by a special school bus was unacceptable; the ride took a long time because of the many stops along the way.
On the first day of school, the parents were allowed to stay in the classroom for an hour. There were six children in my son's group and about ten parents there. After an hour, the teacher respectfully kicked us out and told us to go get coffee and not come back before noon. So we went to a café nearby. On the way there, one of the mothers asked me if I wasn't bothered by the fact that the school in a hospital, a place which tended to be, in her opinion, a depressing place.
She was agonizing about it, so I looked around; there were some ordinary looking buildings there, with lawns and trees in between, and beyond the traffic circle next to the school lay the green fields of the nearby village as far as the eye could see. The walk from the parking lot to the school didn't go through any ward or a medical facility of any kind.
I wanted to comfort her and tell her she shouldn't worry about it, but I stopped myself and told her very plainly that I really didn't mind the school being a part of a hospital.
"It's a matter of decision," I said. "If you decide it's a problem, to have the daycare on hospital grounds, then it's a problem". I didn't see it as a problem, and therefore it wasn't a problem. Five minutes later, I was asked again the same question by another parent.
To be honest, it could have been a problem: My son learned to read when he was 3 years old. If he had asked me why he was going to school in a hospital, where as far as he knew, only sick people go, I would be challenged to find a good answer. But since he's now over 5 and for almost two years he hasn't asked that question, I make sure not to make it a problem of mine. The school year is almost out and next year we face a brand new challenge: integration in a regular kindergarten of the 35-kids-in-a-classroom variety.
It's all highly subjective; what is a problem to one person may not be an issue for another. But I made it a point not to go out and look for problems whenever I don't have to. What my experience has taught me, especially in the first year after Tal was diagnosed, is that things that used to seem like big problems simply aren't any more.
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