5 Lessons My Child With Autism Taught Me
5 Lessons I’ve Learned From My Child With Autism
As parents, a great deal of our job in rearing our children is teaching them everything. From first steps and first words to teaching basic life skills, such as tying their shoes, and the ability to read and write, our whole job revolves around guiding them so they can learn from us. Sometimes, however, we learn more from our children than we could ever imagine teaching them. This has certainly been the case for me as I’ve raised my child with High Functioning Autism. He has taught me so much more than I could ever convey in one article, but here are five of the most important lessons I’ve learned from him:
1. Routine, routine, routine.
The importance of routine may be lost on many parents of neurotypical children. Most parents are allowed a degree of spontaneity that parents of children on the spectrum must learn early on that they will never be afforded. It’s quickly established that a last-minute stop at the grocery store or an impromptu field trip can cause untamable meltdowns. Children on the spectrum require rigid routine to avoid overstimulation and the meltdowns that ensue afterward.
Before having my son, I was never much of a planner. Following my son’s diagnosis, I had to learn to develop a thorough routine, both for his benefit and my own. Every minute detail of our lives needed to be factored in: mealtimes, educational times, therapy, screen times. In developing a routine for my son, I’ve learned to apply routine to every aspect of my life. In implementing a routine, I’ve been able to more effectively manage raising my five children, balancing my marriage, and working toward my goals in my career. Routines have helped me hone my time management skills and allow me to plan every activity ahead of time. This has been a hugely beneficial lesson to have learned from my child.
2. The world is much louder and brighter than we generally seem to notice.
The intensity of fluorescent lights beaming down into their eyes, the sound of a dog barking or a loud conversation, the feeling of a caress of the face or water on their heads... Kids on the spectrum see, hear, and feel these things so much more intensely than their neurotypical counterparts. Sensory overload is a frequent contributing factor to meltdowns and tantrums. Before having my son, I never thought anything of the sounds of car horns blaring or a vacuum cleaner roaring. Since my son has come along, he’s opened my eyes to the thousands of stimuli I’d never paid much attention to before. I’m more aware of the feelings, sights, and sounds around us now. I’ve even noticed during moments of overwhelm that maybe sensory overload is affecting me. He has taught me to seek out a quiet place and take a few moments to collect myself when I feel overwhelmed.
3. Moms of kids on the spectrum are judged more harshly than moms of neurotypical children.
It’s a mom-eat-mom world out there, and mom shaming is abundant for everyone, but children on the spectrum sure garner a lot of attention! All autism moms have experienced it: We’re in public and our child has had enough. Whether we’re at a sibling’s soccer practice or the checkout line at a store, the child melts down and everyone around has an opinion about it. I’ve been told my child is too spoiled, needs more discipline, needs less discipline... All the judgment is enough to make you want to scream! What I have learned from this is that I will never be able to appease everyone—and it isn’t my job to do so! My responsibility is to my son, and he taught me to overlook the well-meaning advice of total strangers in favor of what is best for him. Now I’ve learned to politely explain that my child has special needs and I, as his mother, am capable of addressing his needs.
4. It really does take a village.
Without the support of my friends and family, I don’t know how I would survive. My village is even larger thanks to my son on the spectrum. Coordinators, teachers, speech therapists, behavioral therapists, doctors, and an amazing online community of other, more experienced autism parents have all been amazing resources for our family and have given us the benefit of a huge support system. Every victory we experience with my son, whether it’s trying a new food or making it through a ball game without melting down or eloping, belongs to our village as much as it belongs to us as his parents. My son taught me that it’s okay to ask for help.
5. Never take a milestone for granted.
While raising my neurotypical children, I was proud of milestones like first words and first sentences, but it wasn’t until my son with autism came along that I realized just how precious these milestones can be. He was nonverbal until almost four years of age, and now he can carry on a conversation about a topic of interest for hours. I will never take one word he speaks for granted because I’ll never forget those years I waited so impatiently, praying that one day I would be able to hear his little voice. The most important lesson my child taught me is to savor every special, precious, unique moment and rejoice in every milestone.