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Love Needs No Words- Autism Awareness

What is Autism?

April is National Autism Awareness Month. According to Autism Speaks, Autism Spectrum Disorders are complex disorders of brain development, characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Breaking free from stereotypes

Raising two children with autism is definitely not anything I had imagined. We had a long journey to diagnosing both of my children, but, in many ways, it is a relief to know exactly what is causing certain issues. My children have absolutely dispelled any stereotypes I had about what autism is. I used to think that people with autism had a complete lack of emotion, empathy, and social skills. This is the complete opposite of what I have found. My children are some of the most emotionally intelligent people I have ever met. They read emotions easily, express emotions readily, and genuinely empathize with others. In fact, their ability to empathize with others, even complete strangers, is a strength of both of my children. They can socialize. They have friends. They are affectionate.

Challenges 

The biggest challenge I have raising children with autism is probably no different than parents raising “typical” children. My biggest challenge is that nobody prepared me for this. I have no formal training in autism or any history of working with children with autism. Thinking about it, though, I guess every parent, of “typical” children or “special-needs” children, is just “winging it” too. Growing up as the oldest of three, I thought that my “oldest child” status would’ve prepared me for life as a parent. Wrong.

Life is a series of “first…then” statements. “First, put your toys away, then you can have a cookie.” I hold my breath whenever I leave my house, as my children, especially my son, are impulsive. My thoughts are, “I hope he doesn’t try to run away from me,” to “There’s none of the bigger carts left…how can I grocery shop with two children who run away from me,” to “Please don’t let strangers judge me for whatever meltdown my children are having at this moment in time.”  

My house is almost always a mess. My couches are destroyed, as the frames are broken from the repetitive jumping and rocking, both repetitive behaviors associated with autism. The blinds are torn apart. Days are filled with birth-to-three appointments, PPT and IEP meetings at schools, neurologist appointments. Life is busy, unpredictable, and uncertain. 

Strategies

There are certain strategies that are most-effective in working with children with autism that are not necessarily “innate.” I have picked up on some of these strategies during my many sessions with birth to three providers, developmental pediatricians, and special-educators in the schools. First, children with autism respond well to an increased level of affect. If you are proud of something your child did, you need to praise them immediately and go over-the-top in your level of praise. If you are happy, the smile needs to spread all the way from ear to ear.    

Rewards

Although raising children with autism has presented unique challenges, there have been some rewards too. The experience has made me stronger. I no longer worry about what people are thinking of me, as my children have meltdowns in stores. I do what I need to do to keep my children safe and get their needs met. If there was ever any doubt about how much I could handle in life, this experience has shown me that I can handle a whole lot! 

I’ve learned to celebrate the small victories. My five year old asked for something using a full sentence! That should be celebrated! The biggest reward, however, comes in hugs. My children are both very sensory-seeking, and love the pressure and sensation provided by a tight squeeze. I get the greatest gift of all – children who are loving, kind, and happy. I get to watch them grow and develop, celebrating their small-victories, and taking advantage of the many wonderful hugs I get along the journey!

 

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