There are a lot of myths out there about what Autism really is, and how it affects the people that have it. I know that when my son first got diagnosed, I wasn’t really sure what this condition was, or how it was going to affect my son’s life.
The first thing I learned is that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a pretty broad term that encompasses people with a whole spectrum of symptoms. Some people, like my son, are on the more mild end of the spectrum, but others have a much more severe condition. At its core, autism causes problems with communication, social skills, and repetitive behaviors. People with autism may have trouble understanding forms of communication such as eye contact, speech, tone of voice, and gestures.
My son, like other people with autism, struggles to understand and vocalize his emotions and the emotions of other people. When he doesn’t understand these things, he can easily get overwhelmed and have trouble handling the situation appropriately. He also struggles with the symptom of repetitive movements. He rocks back and forth frequently and it becomes more significant when he’s overstimulated. Other repetitive behaviors can include body movements, movements with objects, ritualistic behaviors, and the resistance to a change in routine.
There are quite a few early signs of autism spectrum disorder that can be seen as early as 6 months. We noticed he wasn’t quite as giggly as our friends’ babies and didn’t babble quite as much. But he was our first born, so we thought maybe it was just a personality difference. It was once we saw him continuously missing milestones and even regressing those milestones that we got worried.
To make a long story short, after a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation we learned the diagnosis. From then on, we knew we had to make some changes to ensure our son could make the most out of his formative years.
This was probably the first experience driven concept I learned with my son. When he has a tantrum or gets agitated, I need to pay attention to what causes that. This can help avoid or lessen his discomfort in the future.
The biggest challenge here is that he isn’t going to tell me directly what’s wrong. Instead, I’ve learned to read nonverbal clues as to what he’s feeling. I mentioned earlier that he tends to rock when he starts to get uncomfortable but I can also get an idea of what he’s feeling through cues like facial expressions and how he gestures.
When it comes to this point, I would advise other parents of children with autism to be patient. It’ll take time to learn motivations and cues but it’ll help you both out in the long-term.
Children with autism spectrum disorder – my son included – are sensitive to sensory input. Sometimes they’re more obvious such as loud, crowded environments. Other times, it’s something that I never thought about until we encountered it such as the material of or tag on a sweater.
Once again, the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t was to pay attention to my son’s behavior. It also comes partially done to learning by doing. If he becomes overstimulated by a particularly bright room, I know to keep the lights in the house dimmer. A big part of raising my son has been and continues to be looking out for uncomfortable situations and minimizing that stimulus in the future.
To my son, a routine means everything. If he knows what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen, he handles the day much better. When he was very young, we started off simple. For instance, at 7 pm, we’d have “wind down” time. This was a period before he went to bed where there’d be no TV or roughhousing and we could help him calm down for the night. Then, at 8 pm, we’d get him to bed. We even developed an order for bedtime activities. First, time to change into pajamas, then brush your teeth, and storytime after that. We could not imagine bedtime without weighted blankets. Adding one to your child’s bed can offer a sense of calm to nighttime routine.
The rest of the day had the same sort of regiment. Wake up at 8 am, breakfast at 9 am, etc., etc.
There were times when his schedule was disrupted, of course. For instance, when we visit my parents around Christmas time, his schedule was disrupted. Luckily, they live close by, so we don’t have to worry about long car rides or flights that could spell out trouble.
To make the most of it, though, we tried to keep his routine on track even in this altered environment. Keep bedtime the same, wake up at the same time, all of what he was used to. I’ve also taken the time to fill my family in on what does and doesn’t work for him to avoid accidental set-offs.
While I can control the environment in my own home and around my family, I can’t control a school environment. Needless to say, the days leading up to kindergarten were full of anxiety for my husband and me.
Unfortunately, it seemed like the concern we had for our son starting school was founded in truth. When I took him into his new class for the first time, I could see his agitation right away. Not only was it a new place that he was supposed to spend the day in without his parents, but it was also full of 20 loud classmates and bright fluorescent lights.
Before the year was over, I decided that I would take over and homeschool my son. It has allowed me to make sure he can get the most out of his education by ensuring an environment that is comfortable and works for him.
My son’s autism diagnosis has come with a number of hurdles for my family. But, it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I can’t imagine anything different.