April is autism awareness month and with a prevalence of 1 in 68 children, you’ve probably heard of autism. It’s difficult to explain what autism is as it affects each person differently. My sons have the same diagnosis but are on opposite ends of the autism spectrum. Life is difficult for both the person with autism and their families as there are many challenges to deal with every day. Challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication as well as comorbid conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, sleep issues, gastrointestinal issues and sensory processing disorder. I don’t have it all figured out. I just do my best to know my kids and focus on what I can do to help them. What I didn’t expect is that they would teach me some of the most valuable life lessons in the process.
Focus on solutions, not problems
Autism families face challenges every day. Between the obsessions, the meltdowns, the lack of communication and the worry of what the child’s future will be, it’s easy to feel defeated. Like in any situation, if we chose to focus on all the problems, it will feel insurmountable. To focus solely on finding solutions helps to feel empowered. For example, my son can’t speak so we teach him to sign, he can’t write so we’re teaching him to type. I admit that I have to remind myself often, but my kids make me believe that there is a solution to every issue and that anything is possible when you focus on the positive.
See the wonder in everyday life
My son was born premature and the fact that we almost lost him to medical complications definitely gave me perspective on what’s important. However, in our busy routines, it’s so easy to forget to appreciate the little things in life. Kids with autism see things others may not notice. They also have a fascination with things such as twinkling lights or bubbles. My son will stare into a flower and it’s as if he sees every tiny detail. Some might see it as a weakness but to me, it’s a strength. Being able to look at things differently and see details that might have gone unnoticed is a choice that we can make to be more mindful and grateful for the little things.
Don’t be afraid to be different
Whether it’s working from home or any other uncommon choice, do what is right for you. For kids with autism, anything that is the norm usually doesn’t apply. My kids taught me a “whatever works for results” attitude when dealing with their sleep, feeding and sensory issues. Sometimes we need to get creative to come up with a solution that works, no matter how unconventional or unpopular. For example, no matter how much I wanted my son to fit in, public school was not a good environment for him to learn. Homeschooling is not a conventional choice but all that matters is that it is giving us the results we need. He is calmer, happier and more willing to learn than he has ever been.
Releasing preconceived notions will open your eyes
Everyone has a story that we’re not aware of and situations are not always what they appear. Autism is an invisible condition so people can’t tell just by looking at a child that they have autism. If you see a grown child having a meltdown in a store, you’ll think that the child is a spoiled brat or that his parents have no authority. What you might not be aware of is that sensory processing disorder makes the child hypersensitive to lights, smells and the noises until it sensory overload causes them to have a meltdown. It’s these preconceived notions and judgment that cause so many autism families to isolate themselves. We can see things through a different set of eyes when we’re not limited by preconceived notions.
Learn to dance in the rain
We all go through difficult situations and some things in life are difficult to accept. If you wait for it to get better before moving forward, you’ll miss out. Getting a diagnosis for not only one but both of my children was heartbreaking but behind that label of autism is still my little boys that I love. All they want is to be loved and accepted as they are. My children will always have autism and although I have my moments, I try to remember that life happens with or without me. Don’t let whatever is not perfect in your life stop you from living it and enjoying it because life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.