Things I’ve learned along the way and tips to help other parents
“Caleb, stop covering your ears!” “Caleb, stop screaming; it’s just a haircut!” “Caleb stop flapping your hands!” These are some of the things I would say to my son before I found out what was wrong.
I mean what was wrong with my son? Why was he always rocking in a corner after a busy day of grocery shopping or running errands? Why didn’t he respond to my questions of how his day was and what he did? Why did it take him so long to answer any question?
Testing for Autism
After suffering through kindergarten and first grade, I decided to have my son tested. For what, I was not exactly sure yet. I asked the school to test him because I felt like something was wrong and they agreed. His results came back normal. I thought, Fine, maybe he’s just going through a phase.
My son continued to struggle through third and fourth grade, and was held back twice. I finally had enough of sitting by and waiting. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why he was failing at school and was a reclusive student and son, when I could clearly see he was incredibly smart. I wanted to know why it took him so long to have an answer to anything I asked him.
I went back to the school and discussed exactly what was concerning me with my son. They determined an evaluation would be performed. The school set up everything for me. My son was evaluated by a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist, and a psychologist. Two weeks after the evaluation, the school principal called me in for a meeting. I was already nervous about the meeting, but when I opened the door to see all the specialists and a speech teacher and a special education teacher, my stomach was full of knots. The verdict they told me, was that my son is Autistic.
What is Autism and What are the Signs of Autism?
The million-dollar question everyone asks me is, What is Autism and how did he get it? It’s not a disease and you cannot just get it. Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact with others. Autistic children have a hard time carrying a conversation because it takes time for them to think about what you just asked them and then process an answer for you. If you have ever seen a bilingual person listen to the English question and process a semi perfect English answer, that is how Autistic children carry a conversation. The speech delay is part of their developmental issue.
Autistic children also have repetitive behavior, such as with my son. He literally watched the same episode of a TV show because it comforted him to know what would happen next. Changes make Autistic children very uneasy and can lead to a meltdown.
What is a Meltdown?
What is a meltdown, you ask? Well, my son and I had just finished grocery shopping on a typical Saturday. As we walked to our car, an ambulance on the other side of the street whizzed past and my son crumpled to the ground, held his ears, and began screaming. People stopped to see what was going on as I tried to get him to stand. I was so embarrassed that I eventually had to pick him up and put him in the car. When we got home, I was still trying to calm him down. I let him rock in the corner because that comforts him.
Autistic children have high sensitivity to sounds and lights. For everyone else it was just an ambulance and once it was gone the sound was gone with it. But for Autistic children it’s like someone took a bullhorn and put it right up to their ear and let it blare. Now that sound will echo in their ears for at least another hour. It’s hard for parents who don’t have an Autistic child to truly understand what it’s like to care for one.
I cannot tell you how bad I feel when we’re in a store and I’m talking to my son in a step-by-step conversation so he knows what is going on and what we’re about to do.
Let me explain “step-by-step conversation” (a term I made up).
When we’re finished grocery shopping and it is time to check out, I tell my son, “We need to put our items on the belt so the cashier can reach them and scan them.” Then I will tell him, “We need to move the cart down so they can bag our items and put them in our cart.” If I don’t tell him this he will just stand there, because no one has told him what needs to be done next. Sometimes he remembers what to do from last time, but it depends on whether or not he’s focusing on what is going on and where we are.
Tips for Helping Your Autistic Child
Having a child with Autism is emotionally and sometimes physically draining, but I couldn’t imagine life without my son. Autism does not have to be a hindrance. There are ways to help you and your child work together.
Spend Time with Your Child
The most important tip is to spend alone time with your Autistic child so that you can get to know them better and allow them to open up to you.
When it comes to having a conversation with your child, be patient and never pressure them. Sometimes you may ask a very easy question, but to them there are many different ways they could answer, so they will take time to think about which is best. Just give them time and they will come to you.
Keep an Ear Out for Key Words
Listen for key words. I have a habit of thinking every color looks good on my son (he’s 14 years old now) and when we’re at Target, I’ll try to push off these bright oranges and nice yellow button-ups, while saying, “This will look great on you Caleb!” He typically responds with, “Well, I don’t think I want to try that right now.” This really means “Mom, please stop, I already know what I want.”
Know How to Make Your Child Comfortable
You also have to learn what makes your Autistic child uneasy. Last year, I thought it was a good idea to throw my son a birthday party at one of those places that has laser tag, games, and go karts. Mind you he was 13 last year, but he spent the whole time playing air hockey alone while stealing glances at the girl he liked. Never again will I put him in an uncomfortable position like that. Ask your child what they – never assume.
Focus on Your Child’s Strengths
Focus on their strengths and talents. My son is not like the counting genius in Rain Man, but he can draw any object you point out. I have been entering him into drawing contests and he seems to love it.
Seek Out Proper Education
When it comes to learning, make sure your child’s school will create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for him. An IEP separates the classes he will get assistance with and the regular classes.
Take Time for You and Your Spouse
Take couple time, plan date nights, and create a nacho and Netflix night. The key is to just spend time with your spouse. Sometimes my husband and I get so caught up with work and kids that we miss our nacho nights and Red Box nights and Netflix nights. You need this time to relax and reconnect.
While Autism is a developmental disorder that can’t be cured, you can learn how to deal with it by understanding both the disorder and your child. There’s no reason a child with Autism should ever be held back – what makes him different also makes him special.
Image via Flickr by hepingting
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