Everyone has an idea of what life will be like once you become a parent.
You imagine your child hitting each of the growth and development milestones on time, showing their particular areas of interest and excellence.
You think about the sort of mother you will be, the experiences you will share with your children, and the life you will have together.
Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to your plan.
Sometimes, life throws you a massive curve ball and the life you imagined veers off in new directions that are completely out of your control.
At the time our first child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in early 2012, we had absolutely no idea what it was all about or to the extent it was going to affect all of our lives.
Our lives then took another major turn and our hearts were broken again, when our second child was also diagnosed with ASD in early 2014. Autism then pretty much consumed our whole lives.
9 tips to help you thrive as a parent of an autistic child
Learn, develop and adapt different strategies to survive
Over time we have learnt to think differently, lower expectations, ignore societies unwritten rules and appreciate all the little things in life and reassess what is really important to us and our family.
When the kids were first diagnosed, I wasn’t at the point where I could bring myself to read a lot of helpful information. Now I try to attend as many seminars as I can.
I would encourage everyone to gain as much knowledge as possible to help you!
Take the time to get to know your children
Be more sensitive and have more empathy as to how they may actually be feeling. Everything is heightened for them. Try to identify the real reason behind their behaviour and address the underlying issue.
Learning how to manage that behaviour, predicting when it may occur or attempting to prevent it from even happening as much as possible is beneficial for the whole family.
Always be prepared
Make sure you have a plan and a back-up plan in case things don’t go as planned. Have a ‘survival backpack’ with your child’s favourite toys, snacks, a change of clothes, wipes, iPad, anything that calms them down, distracts or entertains them.
You never know when something may trigger an unexpected meltdown or behaviour.
Make sure your child has a good support network, apart from their parents
We’ve been so lucky to have both sets of grandparents that have been so loving, supportive and hands on, so the kids are very comfortable with them. Trusting in caring therapists and aides become reliable and special people in their lives too.
Follow and encourage your child’s loves and interests
Regardless of how strange or left field these interests may seem. You never know what may develop down the track from that interest? Try to build a relationship or further learning around their interest and find other things or people to associate it with.
Never give up and try to be patient
Ask and ask again, in five, ten minutes, next week or the next year but keep trying with them. As frustrating as it can be, a lot of aspects of learning and development may take more time than you hope but that doesn’t mean it will never happen… Patience and slowly building up steps and tolerance is the key.
Speak to other special needs parents
Although it is very emotional and every situation is different, they can relate to most of the things you are going through and are more than likely, experiencing similar scenarios. It helps to feel that you are not alone and talk to someone else that knows how hard life can be. If that is not enough, a trained professional will help.
Recruit a team of people and professionals to help you
Supportive family and friends matter but often they don’t have the professional insight into Autism that you need. There’s so much help available, especially with NDIS funding for financial assistance – sure, it’s a lot of forms and red tape but totally worth it!
Keep up with work and regular exercise
An hour or two escaping, releasing endorphins and enjoy something other than your kids makes a difference. It helps you feel like a person rather than just a special needs parent.
The quality and extent of support is intensely important for every family who deals with autism. May you also find the resources, strength, and support you need to love and serve your own children.
The 12th annual World Autism Day is on 2nd April in recognition of people living with autism and those who support their journey www.un.org/en/events/autismday/