Annabelle Carter Short is a professional seamstress of more than 7 years who sells handmade items.
My son was only 18 months old when I first noticed he was special. I knew everything was not right when he could not point at things, and his speech development seemed to stall. The little language that he had learnt was lost, and this is where I started worrying.
While other children his age babbled as they played, my son was silent, and he only played with himself. He would roll the toy cars I bought him back and forth while other children skid them on the floor.
I started making rounds in doctors’ offices, and after five evaluations, he was diagnosed with autism. It broke my heart. I wanted to cradle my baby and watch him grow to become a responsible adult, but that could not happen. I felt lost, especially since the doctors said it was doubtful that he may never learn how to speak or even be self-sufficient.
Despite the doctors’ words, I still had hope for my son. I, therefore, resorted to treating him myself. After a few years of therapy, my son still struggled with essential speech, dressing, and toileting, but he had shown good progress.
My son struggled with many things
I was happy when my son was born; I had yearned to be a mother for long. However, I had to deal with my son’s condition, something I was not ready for.
After losing his speech completely and isolating himself from other children, my son started self-abuse. When he was frustrated, he would knock his head against a wall. This meant that our house assistant or I needed to be with him at all times. I had imagined I’d spend days teaching my son basic math, but I now spend my days at a specialist’s office.
He hardly slept. At night, he would be up crawling and damaging anything he came across. He would smear toothpaste on the floor and walls pull cords from electrical gadgets and even hang off curtains. We also had to lock our doors and hide the keys at night in case he decides to go out. One of the therapists we were seeing recommended weighted blankets which have since helped him sleep better at night.
When he was four, he started throwing violent anger tantrums. This would result in him biting, spitting, throwing things, and even hitting anyone near him. We only got a break when he joined school. But this too was short-lived because he would later refuse to attend classes and sit somewhere outside on a bench. He also became violent towards his teachers and anyone else who tried talking to him in school.
My family was in chaos
Because he couldn’t be contained in school, I withdrew my son and decided to homeschool him. This meant me leaving my job and cutting links with a horde of other things in my life. My husband had to work extra hours to sustain the family now that I did not have an income. I expected this to sit well with him, but it didn’t.
We started having fights, and he would, sometimes, not come home. This was devastating for me, but luckily, we worked or rather talked through it.
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Understanding my son
Therapy was helping because my son had shown significant improvement. However, this was not enough; there were still issues at home.
I decided to educate myself about autism. This meant reading online researches and consulting doctors. In my research, I learned to observe:
- What triggered positive responses
- What elicited disruptive behavior and challenges
- What he finds frightening and stressful
- What calms him and what makes him uncomfortable
By understanding what bothered him and what made him happy, I was able to make the home environment friendlier for him. Today, even though he still has episodes of anger and frustration, he can stay for months without causing an incidence.
We accepted our son
Accepting my son with all his range episodes and quirky behavior was the first of many good steps that have helped make his life, and mine, comfortable. I accepted that I could not change the fact that he has autism. This enabled me to focus on treatment and home-schooling him so he can be independent.
Therapies became a routine
While we were giving him all the care and love he needed at home, we felt that a specialist still needed to see him at least once in a while. This helped him cut problematic behavior. At first, I had decided not to engage a therapist, but this changed when my son almost burnt our house.
He still sees a therapist where he is engaged in physical, speech, and behavior therapy. This has helped us a lot as the therapist can reinforce what we teach at home, and we can reinforce what he teaches our son.
Respite care and ASD support groups have also helped a lot
There are times I feel like all I need is a break; it is not easy taking care of a child all day, all year, and for a long period. At such times, I place him under respite care for a few days. At first, he didn’t want it, but he has since accepted other caregivers taking care of him.
I have also joined ASD support group where mothers meet to discuss challenges and how they overcome them. To me, these groups motivate me to soldier on taking care of my son, seeing that I am not the only one with the challenge. I have also tried marital counselling because I do not want the fact that my son is autistic to affect my marriage.
Setting daily schedules and following them
I work from home. This not only helps me add to the family budget kitty but also take care of my son. I engage him in exciting activities throughout the day, and I have learned to maintain a routine. When we follow a set routine, he seems to enjoy what we do more.
Lastly, I have relied on government services for autistic children. Because our budget may not allow high-end therapy, low-cost or free government services come in handy.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.