It was nearly 12 years ago that Jack was diagnosed with autism, then nearly a decade later Lily got her diagnosis. I wanted to do a post looking at 10 things my autistic children have taught me over the years. Unlike Natalie who had been around disability all of her life, I had been sheltered from that life. It was a whole new world I was stepping into. A world that was a lot worse than I could ever have imagined, but is full of some truly strong and wonderful people. So here is my list of 10 things that my autistic children have taught me.
I am naturally a patient person, but since the children were diagnosed my patience has been tested more than ever before. Whether that was dealing with professionals and schools, or the children themselves. Patience is key to bringing up autistic children. Nothing ever happens quickly, but stay patient and you can win the fights against the system. And your children can learn the things you are trying to teach them, it just might not be the way you planned in the first place.
2. To Fight
When you have children going through the SEN process, you have to learn to fight. There is no alternative if you want the best for them. Sitting in meetings with a group of professionals, telling them what support our child needs. And refusing to backdown would terrify a 20 year old Adam. It still scares me today, but I’ve learnt that I have to stand up and fight.
3. Self Care
For those who are familiar with this blog, you probably know that my struggle with depression is a big factor in my life. You can see my post on Managing Depression for more about that. Jack and Lily brought a real focus to me realising, I can’t help them if I don’t help myself first.
4. To Have Confidence
Confidence has always been my nemesis. The things we’ve gone through as a family, and come out the other side has given me confidence in myself. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. The kids enthusiasm and participation in this blog, is what made me start in the first place. Then when I was struggling and took a break, it was then again that got me going again. Now I’m also fulfilling my dream of string for an NFL website called Franchise Tagged. Click the link if you fancy reading my latest article.
5. Unconditional Love
Unconditional love for your children should be a normal thing. When you have child who loses complete control during a meltdown, and can be violent. It can be testing, but learn about the person they are. You realise that is not them, it is just a part of the struggle that have to live with. Then the unconditional love stays strong.
For someone who struggles with depression and confidence, being positive has often been an alien concept to me. I made a decision early on that I wanted to keep a positive outlook, when it came to Jack and Lily. Weighing myself down with the negatives wasn’t going to help me, and it certainly wasn’t going to help the children. I’d like to think for the most part I’ve succeeded with that. Obviously, there have been difficult times that have got me down. We all have them.
7. To Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Before children some people would say I floated around in my own little world, blissfully unaware of what was going on around me. Some would say I still do, but that is only partially true. Jack’s hypersensitivity to sound led to Natalie and I always being alert. When we were out with Jack we’d continually scan the surrounding area for things that could make loud noises. Babies, young children, motorbikes, workmen etc. Sitting down at a restaurant means observing the surrounding area and tables, before choosing where to sit. Being aware of flickering lights in a shop, and strong smells we also have to be aware of. It’s become second nature to us both, we now do it automatically even when we are on our own.
8. Accomplishments can be tiny but mean the world
When you have children you have big dreams for them, you want them to achieve great things and make you proud. This doesn’t have to change because your child has a disability. A well-known autism advised parents to grieve for the child they have lost, an idea I despise. You simply have to reset your expectations accordingly. Jack and Lily already both have the ability to maybe do something great in specific areas. But up to now the simplest of things have made me the most proud as a Father. Jack saying his first word (which was Adam!!) at nearly 5 years old, when we’d been told he’d never speak. Lily trying a burger at 8 years old. For a child that wouldn’t have anything touching on a plate, and only ate beige food. I can’t even describe how huge that was. That’s just one simple example each, but these things that most take for granted, are huge achievements for children like Jack and Lily.
9. Silence Speaks Volumes, Words Can be Misleading
Although Jack has learned to speak, his understanding level doesn’t match up with his vocabulary level. He is also unable to verbally express his emotions. We are finding Lily has some of the same issues. So for us to understand them we have to look past the spoken words, and see and hear what is not being said. The actions and behaviours tell you more, and then you can use things like PECS and vision boards to find the real answers.
10. Not to Judge People
It’s very easy to judge, I’ve certainly been guilty of it many times in my life. When you have disabled children suddenly you find yourself being the one who is judged. It really does give you a wake up call, and teaches to look deeper into people. And what their circumstances might be, rather than making i stand judgements.
So there’s 10 things my autistic children taught me. I hope they’ve taught you a few things too. As always, thanks for reading.