Thoughtful Parenting: Autistic children frequently misunderstood
April 17, 2016
It is never easy being a parent. Even more daunting is being the parent of a child with autism and making choices about ridiculously expensive or hard-to-access therapies and programs that could impact the outcome of your child's level of functioning forever.
First comes the suspicion that something is different about your child, possibly suggested by your pediatrician or preschool. Individuals with autism may struggle with speech, understanding body language, social communication, making eye contact, high anxiety and sensory sensitivity.
They may also exhibit unusual behaviors, such as rocking and flapping, or have a narrow but intense range of interests. It's easy to rationalize the red flags and decide he will grow out of it, but the most important thing you can do for your child with autism is to get an early diagnosis. Early intervention gives him the best possible outcome.
It's critically important that parents continually learn as much as possible about autism to be the advocate their child will so desperately need. No one else will love your child, or understand her the way you do, but you need to really understand autism to understand her.
Your quest to find the perfect "How To Parent a Child With Autism" is unrealistic, because each person with autism is unique, develops in their own way and on their own path. But you will find support groups, books, blogs and Facebook pages of people with autism who articulate their journeys and provide thoughtful advice.
Connecting with other parents of children with autism and other people with autism will help you gain knowledge about ideas, successes and failures and assimilate that advice into what works for your child.
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You'll be renamed "Mama Bear" and "Helicopter Dad," and you'll learn it is not your job to be friends with the educators and therapists who are working with your child (although they will probably become great friends in the long run), but rather to truly advocate to make sure every possible thing is being done. You won't always be popular, and they may roll their eyes when they see you coming, but they will respect your determination for your child's needs.
In a few years, when you look in the mirror, you will like the person you've become, not in spite of autism but because of autism. You'll acquire a deeper connection with other people who struggle, other people who experience the world differently than the norm, other people who wake up each day grateful for, in your words, "the good life they make."
The gifts locked up inside the brain of your child with autism will out. Your job is to find them and develop them — use them to establish a sense of pride and social connection for him and to give your community a way to not merely tolerate or accept autism, but to appreciate and value the different brain. We like to call them "NeuroTribes," from Sam Silberman's novel, of different thinkers.
Make a resolution to have a good life with autism for your child and yourself. It does give you a positive purpose, even on the hard days. It does help you appreciate the child and the life you have and the joy he brings you. (Spoiler alert: you might just be amazed and crack up while your son does a one-man, start-to-finish monologue of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," including sound effects, at 11 years old.)
For more information about autism, therapies, programs and services available, contact the Yampa Valley Autism Program at 970-846-1519 or email@example.com.
Lisa Lorenz is a founding member and executive director of Yampa Valley Autism Program. She is inspired by her son, 22-year-old Sawyer Lorenz, who has autism.
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