We need to talk about the “A” word. I’m not talking about the three letter “A” word. I’m talking about Autism. I’m talking about the neurological and developmental disorder that can rock your world. April is autism awareness month and I want to share with you my experience as well as how you can be a help to a mom who is overwhelmed in so many ways.
You see for many years I didn’t want to believe that MY child was on the Autism Spectrum. He could talk, he could eat, he could play with other kids; surely the little things that seemed off didn’t mean he had Autism right?
What I’ve learned over the past three years is that Autism doesn’t look the same for each child. It also doesn’t discriminate. For some, it might mean they are non-verbal, have trouble sleeping, have repetitive behaviors that may seem “odd” to outsiders, fixate on certain things, or even have various social challenges.
For others, it might mean they don’t pick up on social cues, they might seem a little “off”, they might excel academically but struggle with things like playing with peers, and they may have trouble looking people in the eyes.
One of the hard things about autism is that even when you have two children in the same family with the same diagnosis, it can look VERY different for each child.
James is 6. He is funny. He is kind. He is exceptionally smart; reading at a 3rd grade level in 1st grade. He is compassionate. Everyone knows him at school; I haven’t decided if this is a good thing or not yet. He is empathetic, and understanding which is more than I can say for myself sometimes. For 5 years of his life, he had night terrors; some nights he would wake up every 15 min. We were driving an hour each way every two weeks for 8 months to see a sleep specialist. James is a people person, he loves making crafts for his friends and playing with others, but he is also easily overwhelmed and struggles with anxiety.
Joseph is three. He LOVES to cuddle and give hugs. He is smart. He cries every day when I drop him off at school. He flaps his hands when he’s eating or gets overly excited or nervous. For months, there would be shrieking every time we wiped his face off or his face got wet during a shower bath. It is only recently that we don’t have tears at bath time. If the TV or radio is too loud he will plug his hears and cry that his head hurts. For months, he would wake up at 3am ready to start the day and couldn’t fall back asleep. Most of the time he will find a corner and play by himself; his imagination is incredible. He struggles with loud and sudden noises. He always has something in his mouth, and we are constantly redirecting that behavior. He gets overwhelmed so easily, and sometimes that means he just lays down on the floor in the middle of Chick-Fil-A and just needs me to pick him up and hold him so that he gets that deep pressure.
Hearing “Autism Spectrum Disorder” was one of the hardest things I have ever heard as a mother because I didn’t want it to define them.
You see, many people see autism as a disability. I don’t see my boys as disabled. I see them as people who can do ANYTHING they set their mind to because we have told him that they can.
Autism isn’t one size fits all; and maybe that’s the hardest thing about it. There is no “cure”. Certainly there are things I can do as a mom that will help my kids, and things/places that we avoid because we know it might be a struggle. But at the end of the day, my children are just as important as a child without autism. My boys have no knowledge of their diagnoses; because I don’t feel they need to. They know they have some great people who come and work with them, but I don’t see a need to explain it all to them right now at their age.
So how can you help? How can you be more aware?
- Invite the mommas out- seriously we need it.
- Ask about their kids, and be willing to listen.
- Reach out- because honestly between OT, PT, ISPT meetings, teacher meetings, and doctors appointments sometimes we just forget about friends and it’s honestly not intentional. So call. Call again, and again, and then maybe send smoke signals.
- Be inclusive! Teach your children how to be kind and accepting even when others might look or act differently.
- Be kind! Skip the judgment and eye rolls. You don’t know what that momma or her child is going through.