I was diagnosed with autism when I was 4. I found the word a terrifying place. In some ways, it’s still a frightening place for me. But I have reached a point where I am a professional public speaker on autism.
Parents often ask me to give them advice for their children who are on the autism spectrum. There are many things parents don’t understand about their children with autism. Here are things I wish parents of children with autism would understand.
Finding ways to have fun at home with your child while simultaneously developing things like social, communication, language, self-regulation, and fine and gross motor skills can be a challenge for any parent, and when you add developmental delays into the mix, it can feel downright impossible.
Learning delays, sensory processing challenges, and explosive meltdowns can make everyday situations feel overwhelming, and finding ways to interact with your little one at home can be difficult. While you want to teach your child important life skills and help him learn how to play independently, finding the right activities for kids with autism, sensory processing disorder, and other challenges isn’t easy, and without an arsenal of indoor activities for kids up your sleeve, weekends, sick days, and school holidays can be extremely daunting.
Dear Sweet Mama,
If I could go to you and hug you tightly, and promise you it was all going to be OK, I would. There are many things I’d say if I were face-to-face with you.
But I’ll start with this:
You will get past the diagnosis.
When the diagnosis is new, your vast range of emotions will be hard to sort through. You won’t know if you are happy that someone confirmed you weren’t wrong about the diagnosis, or if you are scared to death about what this will all mean. It’s OK. It’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to cry, scream, question why, feel bitter and isolate yourself for a time. But don’t stay there mama. Please inch your way back out. There will be times where it will feel impossible. Hold on anyway. You and your little one will make it through. You are an All Star team together. You will inspire and feed off of each other’s accomplishments and strength along the way.
“Why are you freaking out?”
“That child having a tantrum just needs some discipline.”
“What a brat!”
“What a weirdo.”
People on the autism spectrum, and their loved ones, unfortunately hear phrases like these every day. Why? Because they often experience sensory overload when too much sensory stimulus is occurring at once. It can be triggered by a crowded room, a TV turned up too loud, strong aromas, fluorescent lighting — or a hundred other things. It’s also associated with diagnoses like sensory processing disorder (SPD), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, although anyone can experience it. Often, a meltdown is the only way to relieve the building tension of sensory overload.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can look different in different people. It’s a developmental disability that affects the way people communicate, behave, or interact with others. There’s no single cause for it, and symptoms can be very mild or very severe.
Some children who are on the spectrum start showing signs as young as a few months old. Others seem to have normal development for the first few months or years of their lives and then they start showing symptoms.
But up to half of parents of children with ASD noticed issues by the time their child reached 12 months, and between 80% and 90% noticed problems by 2 years. Children with ASD will have symptoms throughout their lives, but it’s possible for them to get better as they get older.