When I was pregnant with my youngest boy Alex, “autism” was already a common word and every 100th boy was getting the diagnosis… but that wasn’t my world, I thought, and it wasn’t going to happen to my child. I ignored the autism symptoms because he was still very young, and it wasn’t going to happen to him. I ignored friends pointing to the symptoms of autism in my boy because I could come up with excuses for all the odd behaviors he was exhibiting. When the signs started getting obvious, like regression in speech, severe sensitivities, taking weeks to get over simple colds, and, in Alex’s case, regression in ability to eat, I denied the obvious. I struggled trying to re-teach him speak, taking him to allergists and therapists, and thinking of recipes for food that he might not refuse to eat. Then, one day, as I came to check on Alex in his bed trying to determine if he was sleeping, or if he was too weak from hunger and yet another cold, and if I must take him to the emergency room, it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: oh, this sweet little child has autism. It was right in front of me for so long and I could not see it. So I cried for a long time feeling devastated, guilty, and powerless…
I wish I knew that it was all going to be okay that day, and that it was the beginning of the most amazing journey of my life. I often receive calls from new moms who either suspect or just got an autism diagnosis for their child looking for a glimpse of hope. I made this phone call too one day ~ I called a complete stranger who, I heard, had a child on the autism spectrum. As she picked up the phone, she did not sound devastated and her life did not seem to be upside down. She sounded… just fine, and gave me a few pieces of great advice. I felt better that I was not alone. And now it is my turn to come forward and talk to other moms. Now, I too don’t convey that my life is upside down, because it is not!
Here is what I have to say about children’s autism:
1. It may be hard to believe now, but it is going to be okay. Your life will now have a new normal, but not in any way worse, just a different normal. You will meet many great people who will help you, and you will discover an incredible amount of strength, patience, and unconditional love you never thought you were capable of. Give it some time, and you will be happy again.
2. Have your child evaluated as soon as you feel that something is wrong and read about autism signs in children. This is extremely important because the autism spectrum is very broad, and different children show it a bit differently. You may want to think that your child’s issues are different from autism, and they may or may not be. It is better to err on the safe side, talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and follow their suggestions. Never worry about stigma or what people might think, and don’t listen to those who say that your child will “grow out of it” ~ you don’t want to miss the window of those crucial early years years when your child is able to best retain their skills. I firmly believe that an early autism diagnosis and early intervention are the key.
3. Create a good network to help you. It takes a village to raise an autistic child. Make sure family and friends are on board with you and decide what to do. Autism therapy can be confusing and difficult to get perfect. You will be working with many different therapists and teachers, but not all therapists or doctors or teachers will be a good fit for your child. Some aren’t great, and some may be amazing. Once you find the one your child responds to the best, hold on to them and treat them like your child’s savior because they are.
4. Celebrate every achievement, no matter how big or little. You may have big hopes and dreams for your child, but don’t let it get you down if your child doesn’t get there like you imagined. Be flexible and concentrate on one step at a time and celebrate each one. And remember that little steps lead to big accomplishments.
5. Take care of yourself and take breaks. This is very important. Being a mom is a hard work, being a mom to an autistic child is a hundred times harder. You will be the superwoman who will do everything in your power, but if you don’t take breaks, you will run out of fuel and crash, and your child will lose the superwoman he or she needs the most. So make sure to continue your exercise routine and schedule fun nights out without kids. You don’t just do it for yourself, but also for your child.
The autism spectrum is very a wide and everyone’s story is different. Please share yours!