Recently, I spotted a list called “Some things I wish I knew before I had my child with autism.” It was fun to read, so I decided to assemble one of my own.
Here’s my list of things I wish I knew before I had my child with autism:
1. There is a learning curve of human behavior.
Having my child matured me in ways I never thought possible. However, it was my son’s autism that taught me about human behavior in ways I had never imagined.
I had to pay attention to and learn how to break down human behavior into parts – understand antecedents, how to deal with responses, and find ways to resolve each issue. Responding to the behaviors of autistic children is different than behaviors in typical children. With our kids, it’s really important to be able to break it all down.
Luckily, I have always been a practical person who calmly deals with panic-like situations. I can be real and in the moment with my child. I needed those qualities while learning how to handle his negative behaviors and what caused them. In one way, I was prepared. But, it was the learning curve of human behavior directly related to autism that I wish I had understood better before I had my child.
2. Support is out there.
My husband and I thought we were alone in our situation. We were scared and uninformed. As a result, for two years, we told no one about our son. When we felt we had a handle on, at least, being able to explain autism, we started talking about it to friends and family.
When I felt even more comfortable, I began to locate organizations in order to reach out and help within the autism community. I found a ton of support out there. I wish that early on someone had told me that we were not alone.
3. You don’t have to “explain away” your child’s behavior.
Early on, in some situations, I would explain my child’s behavior. I would not use the term autism but would say other things like, “He really likes airplanes a lot, so much so that he talks about them non-stop. Isn’t that cute?”
Yes, it was cute. But, it was an autism-like obsession at time. We were more fortunate than other families because I don’t think we experienced much of the stranger staring problem when my child was younger. Cute kids get away with stuff and our child was, and still is, good looking. He has always had the “Ah, he’s so cute,” thing going for him so we hid behind that.
I no longer “explain” my child the way I used to. At age ten, he runs and flaps and sometimes looks “odd” I will tell strangers (if the need arises), “He has autism,” or “He’s regulating his body due to his autism.”
I am not uncompromising, however. If my son gets too loud in a public situation, I will ask him to lower his voice. If his running around doing his noises is inappropriate, I will ask him to stop. These are adjustments that I make in most social situations I find us in. The handling of these adjustments are like second nature to me now.
What happens when I tell strangers about my son’s autism? I am happy to report that more often than not talking about autism with strangers has held to a conversation about autism! They have a niece with autism or their boss’s son has autism. Even talking to strangers has been a mostly positive experience for me.
4. It’s ok to have trouble accepting your child’s diagnosis.
We had to learn to accept autism – which we did not do in the beginning. Before I had my son, I knew nothing about autism. When I think back, I remember one time having a conversation with a new friend who explained what she did for a living. She said, “I work with autistic kids.”
She explained what that meant but I didn’t understand any of it and this was two years before I had my child. I wasn’t even a parent yet. Turned out, if I had really listened to that person, I might have had a better understanding of what she did for a living. It was so foreign to me at that time, I just didn’t understand.
We know our child has autism for life. 98% of kids diagnosed have it for life. But, ultimately, I would someday like to see autism gone. It’s a tough life. I’ve seen it up close and personal and don’t wish it on anyone.
5. You might end up learning a lot about sprinkler heads.
We didn’t know that our child may end up liking very “unique” things. We had to learn how to accept our child’s sometimes odd interests. For example, over the years we have learned a great deal about power poles, sprinkler heads, and, mountains, airplanes, and populations of countries.
He shares his interests, which is a good thing, even though some of them are quite unique and unexpected. It took him a long time to like baseball and computer games.
Recently, my son will ask an adult, “How many countries have you visited?” At least this question is more appropriate than, “How many sprinkler heads do you have in your yard?”
6. You have to be a good teammate.
My husband and I thought we were on the same page regarding how we wanted to parent our child, but we still had to learn that with autism, it is even more important to be a team with your significant other.
Back each other up even if you don’t agree with your significant other. (I will discuss this more in a future blog.) Try to work on disagreements away from your child and support each other in front of your child and all of the various adults working with your child.
7. Autism has made me a better parent.
Finally, as I may have stated already, I wanted to become a parent, but I didn’t have a clue about becoming an autism parent. Becoming an autism parent has made me a better person and a better parent – better than I ever thought possible.
I feel I have even learned enough to be able to pick out “typical” kids verses kids that may have autism-related issues. I am by no means an expert, but I can proudly say that I do know a thing or two and sometimes I see things that typical parents may not see.
It’s take a lot of work, but it is because of this little surprise in my life (that was totally unexpected) called autism, that I have the awesome life that I have with my son.
Turns out, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To Find Kimberly Kaplan:
www.smashwords.com or Amazon Kindle ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”