I don't think anything could really prepare us for Autism. He was two. The signs had been there since he was a baby. At first these were quirks that we were assured he would grow out of. But he grew up into a little boy and the "quirks" remained. We were in denial, we always wanted to think it was something else. The diagnosis came after a thorough assessment, leaving a lot of questions to hang in the air. "Will he lead an independent life?", "Will he ever speak?", among others. The best answers they could provide were "Maybe, maybe not." These are not answers that put the human mind at ease. His IQ test results were unnerving. My heart broke right then and there for him. He would later prove that this result was to be taken with a grain of salt.
When we came home from the assessment, I flopped on the couch and cried. I cried for my son, who was three feet away from me, happily munching on an apple. He looked at me, came over and hugged me, and started crying too. He's always been so affectionate, with a a warmth we're conditioned to not associate with Autism. What now? Two readings that I found online are: "Welcome to Holland", by Emily Perl Kingsley written from the perspective of a parent, and "Don't Mourn for Us" by Jim Sinclair, as told from someone who has Autism. Both of these gave me much needed perspective to grieve properly and move forward. You will grieve, but what I've realized is that you are grieving your expectations, not grieving for your child. Your child is who they by will be. It's okay to visit these expectations once and a while and be sad, but don't build a house and live there. Life is still happening around you, with many opportunities for positivity and love.
When Isaac started his therapy with stepping stones, I really didn't know what to expect. He had been a mostly silent child, leading us by hand around the house to show us what he needed. If he did speak, he would repeat his favorite words over and over. The team was very positive and what was most comforting was that they had a very clear plan of action. Therapy began. I saw how the workers had ways of finding out how he learned best, offered him ways to stim, etc. He was stressed and exhausted from it at first, but he finally got comfortable and became more receptive. The entire way through, his support worker and the team have been very approachable and open to any questions or concerns that we had.
We are eleven months into therapy now. The difference is like night and day. Some skills have developed quickly, others are take months. His capacity to learn has been astounding and not long ago he said "I love you Mommy" for the first time. He isn't an elaborate conversationalist, but interaction has increased by leaps and bounds. He will ask for things, make up games to play, and sometimes say a few words about his day. He is starting to ask questions. When he spins, he asks me to spin with him, and I do. As more of my son's personality comes out, I greatly appreciate who he is. He has an incredible knack for living in the moment, something that I lack. Spending time with him playing in the sand or making pancakes together can be so rewarding. Being a parent to a child with Autism can be stressful, and your support team understands this. Reach out to them when you need guidance, we've all been there. Hug your child, keep an open mind and live life in the moment with them. Life with Autism is definitely out of the ordinary, but your child is extraordinary.
- Pamela Hayward