I knew something was “off” with my son when he was about 8 months old. At first, I chalked it up to his being a boy – after all, he had two older sisters and boys are different creatures than girls. Later the guilt set in: I returned to work too soon, I wasn’t being a good mom, I was being too strict or not strict enough.
But by age two and with my son having a significant language delay, I could no longer shrug it off to "bad parenting." I had to seek answers for my son and myself.
Don’t let your self doubt delay help for your child.
Tell the pediatrician, the nurses, local mental health providers, everyone. You want documentation of all the symptoms you are concerned with in as many places as possible. This will help when your child is eventually tested.
Keep a journal of all your concerns
Is your child not babbling or smiling yet? Write it down. Is he/she obsessive about certain objects, or does he/she react strangely to external stimuli? Write it down. Include the age of your child when this happens – you will need this information when filling out paperwork later. Memory is fallible.
Has your child been diagnosed with autism?
The earlier the intervention, the better! Many states have early childhood intervention programs. Contact your local county health department, or ask your your child’s pediatrician for a referral. Many programs are free to low income households. If your child is school age, request testing. A diagnosis is essential to creating an IEP (individualized education plan) which will structure your child’s education to his/her needs and abilities.
Don't give up if your young child isn't correctly diagnosed. When my son was first tested at age 2, the psychiatrist said he was not autistic. He was finally diagnosed as autistic at age four by a different doctor.
Because I had documented all his behaviors and had reported all his odd behaviors to his pediatrician, the new psychiatrist had more to base her diagnosis on then simple observation and testing.
Let your child stim
Stimming is common in autistic children. Wikipedia defines stimming as: Self-stimulatory behavior, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorders.
Yes, some stimming behavior is distracting but It is believed that stimming is soothing to an autistic child in a loud and unstructured world. If she taps obsessively, let her tap. If he loves to line up cars or other objects, let him. Let the hands flap and the legs move!
Keep your child’s day structured
Transitions are disturbing to many autistic children. Having a set schedule helps them anticipate and accept change.
If there is going to be a change in the routine, tell your child in advance.My son is much more accepting of change if he mull it over in his head for a while.
Read, read, read!
There is no such thing as too much information. As no two children with autism are exactly the same, reading blogs, seeking out autism websites, and reading books on autism can help you relate to your child and find new strategies in parenting.
This may be hard to do, especially during an emotional meltdown. But remember your child is not bad! Meltdowns are common and may be frequent in the younger child.
Realize that it usually results from frustration due to the inability to communicate his/her needs. Let it happen, while protecting your child and possessions. If a meltdown is too violent, wrapping the child in a blanket (do not cover the head!) can prevent harm and may actually soothe the child.
Develop a thick skin
Friends, family and strangers will judge you and your child. You will deal with those who feel your child is a brat, those who feel you are too permissive, and those who do not think your child is autistic at all. It hurts, but life goes on.
Try to educate family members, but if it doesn't work, avoid the topic. DO NOT let their ignorance influence your parenting strategies. Only YOU know what is best for your child.
Make time for yourself
Join a support group, go for a walk, just get out by yourself. Parenting an autistic child is stressful and challenging. You need time to relax and not be “on call” all the time.
There is so much more that can be said. If you have thoughts, questions, or strategies, feel free to comment below. Good luck, and enjoy your special child.
My son has always shown artistic ability.
Source: Author's photo
Advocate for autism education
My son has high-functioning autism. He attended a mainstream kindergarten class in North Carolina and failed. My son and I then moved briefly to Indiana and discovered a more supportive school system. My son attended a classroom with other autistic children and did wonderfully.
We are now living in my hometown in North Dakota which has an incredibly supportive school system. My son is in a regular classroom and has an aid who shadows him throughout the day. She reinforces positive behavior, keeps him focused, and calms him down when he get overstimulated. He is now attending all of his classes but gym.
With 1 in 88 children diagnosed with autism every year, autism has become a global epidemic. The cost of caring for autistic children in the U.S. is estimated at $137 billion a year, according to WebMD. The sooner a child is diagnosed and receives help, the better his chance to be able to function normally in society.
Federal funding for research into the cause of autism needs to be increased, and states must make education of autistic children a priority. We as a society can pay a little more now for research and prevention, or we can pay much, much more later for the lifetime support of our special-needs citizens