April is Autism Awareness month. We’ve all heard of autism, most likely we all know someone with autism. But nothing can prepare you for being told your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder.
On December 15th of 2020, that was exactly what I was told about my then 2-year-old son Walt.
To say it was a scary time is an understatement. I have family members with autism, so I would like to have thought that getting that diagnosis wouldn’t have scared me. But it did. Immediately I started questioning everything. Is this my fault? Should I have seen it earlier? What does this mean for his future? Will he have a “normal” life?
In the past year, we have started Walk working with speech therapists, occupational therapists, ABA therapists and even got him started in school. It has been a LOT but we have seen so much progress and suddenly it’s not so scary. I’ve learned over the last 16 months about ASD and I want to share as much as I can so that maybe it can make another parent a little less scared.
#1 – No two kids with autism are alike.
There is a saying “If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism” meaning that no two people with ASD are exactly alike. That is the biggest thing you learn as a parent. You’ll talk to countless parents of kids on the spectrum, and while your child may do one or two things that are similar, they are never exactly the same. That is the delight and challenge of autism. There is no one way to help your child with autism face the world. What works for one kid, might not work for the next. But, it also makes kids with ASD unique in so many ways. It’s fun to find out what helps them excel in their own way.
#2 – Stimming is not necessarily a bad thing.
Most of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder display some sort of stimming behavior. These are repetitive or unusual movements or sounds. It’s mostly done to help those with ASD when they are overwhelmed or in need of some extra stimulation. For example, my son Walt tends to run back and forth a lot when he is understimulated or over tired. Unless it’s a behavior that is harmful to someone, there is nothing wrong with stimming. There is a thought that stimming behaviours should be stopped, but really they are just ways that kids with ASD cope.
#3 – Other parents are your biggest resource.
There are a ton of doctors, therapists and teachers that will give you information when your child is diagnosed with ASD. While they will have some insights, nothing will help like hearing from another parent. They are really the only ones who know what you are going through. Talking to parents that have adult children with autism is really what helped me the most. They were able to reassure me that Walt has a bright future, and while things will be challenging, it will all be worth it in the end.
#4 – It’s a myth that autistic kids are unaffectionate.
This is probably the best thing I have learned since Walt was diagnosed. There is a misconception that kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder are not that affectionate and don’t like to be touched. This is the exact opposite with Walt. He is the most loving and affectionate kid I have ever met. He loves to cuddle and give hugs. In fact, there are nights when I can’t get him from sitting on top of me as we’re winding down for the night. Talking to other autism parents this seems to be the trend. Their kids are super affectionate with them as well and it is a complete joy.
#5 – My son’s autism can be a challenge, but it is also a delight!
There is something about being a parent to an autistic child that makes you look at them in a whole new way. While there are times that are challenging, there are so many other times where I find myself completely delighted by his differences. When your child struggles to speak at all, finally hearing things like “ready, set, go” or “hi mom” mean so much more than you can ever imagine. I appreciate every moment with my little man and find myself counting down the seconds till I get off work and can spend time with him again. He is the love of my life and I wouldn’t want him any other way that what he is!