Celebrating World Autism Day
I still remember that moment when the psychologist said to us “your son has Autism”.
We had gone in to do a developmental assessment based on a recommendation from our son’s daycare. Our expectation somehow set on hear a diagnosis of ADHD or a learning disability. The word Autism hit us like a Mack truck. The only reference we had at that point was Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, rocking back and forth murmuring “Attention K-Mart Shoppers”.
It took us quite awhile for us to process the diagnosis. My husband couldn’t figure out how to fix Autism and I, as mom, had no way to make it better. Over time, we stopped looking outwardly to figure it all out and instead just decided to go with the flow. Autism was a part of our lives but it wasn’t the only part. When we stopped considering the diagnosis and started paying closer attention to the unique differences of our child, Autism became a very special part of our lives.
So we became veterans of this disorder and started getting calls from new recruits who had just joined the ranks of parenting Autism.
There are 1001 tips to managing through Autism, but here are a few we think are the most important when dealing with a new diagnosis.
Make Your Foundation Strong
Managing special needs as parents is something that requires as strong a disposition as you can muster. Trying to work it through with a spouse can be a bevy of fights, disagreements, frustrations and sheer anger. You need to plan dates. Find time & space to work on you as a team. Be compassionate and be there for one another. When you go out, don’t talk about the kids. Divorce rates are considerably higher for marriages managing special needs. Understand that to keep things going well in your partnership, you need to be a solid as you can together.
Pay As Much Attention To Your Other Children As You Do Your Special Needs Child
This might seem strange to mention. We know you love all your kids equally. But special needs are exactly that. By their very nature, children with have a diagnosis will have extra needs, drawing added attention from both parents. To ensure all family members feel secure and loved, it is important to plan independent outings or moments with your other kids. Giving them your entire focus and full attention will help keep your home harmonious and siblings less resentful.
You Will Mourn The Life You Had Planned (& That Is Perfectly OK)
Upon learning of a diagnosis, it is a normal human reaction to grieve your original plans of what parenting and child-rearing would look like. Family members will react in a variety of ways and will have to figure out their own path to processing the news. It is very common to become a super-obsessed, information hound when first diagnosed. Read blogs and books to become informed but not too many. Autism can be a pretty heartbreaking piece to read online. So you will need a bit of hope. The best books I would recommend is The Spark (written by a mother of an Autism child) & The Reason I Jump (written by a 13 year old boy with Autism).
Be Unapologetic for Being a Warrior
You are & will always be your child’s biggest advocate. In school, in lessons, in social settings, with family, with the world. Remember that. There will be fights to help them. Trust me on this. And when there is, it is OK to be forceful and to fight to get them help. You will do the very best you can to give them the tools they need to thrive. Never apologize for standing up for your child.
Like the puzzle piece logo used to represent it, Autism is a very long and complex spectrum. No two kids are the same. What works for one child quite often doesn’t work for another. My very best advice is to let go. Autism can grab hold and play centre stage in a family dynamic. But it is only a part of who your child is. We relaxed on the concept of Autism and learned to become good observers. We paid attention to the catalysts and triggers that didn’t work well in our son’s world and strategized ways to manage through them. Being aware that your child has Autism is one thing. Letting it lead is another.
The Superpowers of Autism
Rather than focusing on what they can’t do, why not encourage the unique and often extraordinary capabilities kids with Autism have? Our son’s capacity for memorization gave him the capability of citing all the instruments in a plane’s cockpit. He fell in love with airplanes. We used love to enhance his fine motor and typing skills using Google Flight Simulator. We taught him the physics of flight, mathematical formulas, problem-solving and the geography of the world’s airports. His social skills were enhanced by talking to every pilot he met. Every one of them convinced that this little guy will indeed grow up to someday be a pilot.
As World Autism Day approaches, it’s important for us to share as much as we can about Autism. Knowledge is power. When people ask questions, seek to understand and start looking at all the amazing ways Autism can enrich our lives, it changes the lens we carry of it. When we encourage a society of acceptance and inclusion, it will only ever make the world a kinder place.
Jennifer Powell is the lead writer at MomDadCuppaKids.com, an honest, raw and adventurous account of life as we know it. The family of 4 recently sold everything to travel the world for 9 months, hitting 6 continents and exploring through 21 countries. Their goal was simple: to teach their kids to become global citizens; where community, compassion and respect are at the core of their heart and values. Their ethos is to lead with kindness, help anyone who needs help and embrace every chance for human connection.
You can follow their travel adventures via #CuppaRTW.
Jennifer (Mom), Chris (Dad), Lauren (10) and Spencer (12) all contribute to the blog and social media channels.