The Needs of a Family with An Autistic Child
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith, please be seated. I have Mary’s test results for you.”
“Thank you, doctor. What did you discover? Is she…is she, retarded? Is that why she seems to have regressed?”
“No ma’am, she is not retarded, at least not as you might think of it. After reviewing all of the psychological and social skills test, the conclusion that we come to is that Mary is autistic….”
Getting news that your child is not “normal” can be a heartbreaking experience, without doubt. Parents naturally disbelieve test results or the reports of professionals at first, thinking there has been a mistake; maybe the tests were not administered correctly, or they mixed up the names of their child with someone else’s, or maybe their child was just having a bad day. The nature and onset of Autism actually can lend credence to such denial, because an infant can be progressing along nicely with talking and walking, then start to regress in these and other developmental areas. Once the denial fades, however, other doubts start to creep into the minds of the parents. What did I do wrong? Did I not talk to and play with my baby enough? Did I scold my toddler too much…or was I too lenient? Why is my other children fine? Is it my fault? Does my husband or I have something wrong with us too?
As I will touch upon in a future article, fear of the unknown is a powerful enemy, and our natural human reaction is to do what we can to make sense of it so that we can begin to cope with it. Sometimes, these efforts form beliefs that are not accurate and end up forging actions we take in response. As parents, we have an even more pronounced innate wish to guard and guide, to make sense of what has gone awry and return things to “normal” as much, and as quickly, as possible. Parents and other family members need help in living with an autistic child and even more support with building up the skills of an autistic child to move that normalcy meter closer to center.
Professionals can assist families with doing just that. There is a wealth of resources available from various organizations to support autistic families, and I will specify many of them in a different article. For now, I would like to give the reader an idea of what the family experiences once they accept their child as having challenges different from others.
One of the most rewarding, smile-inducing feelings a parent can have is interacting with their child and having that child respond in an anticipated way. I remember the first time both my children said “Da-da” after weeks of urging on my part; I wrote my experience down in their baby journal and called everyone I could think of. Yes, I actually called people, on the phone, because Facebook and Twitter were nowhere around back then. I also remember vividly their first steps, their first belly laugh when the dog licked them in the face and they fell over, the first time they popped a soap bubble and was startled by the “pop”, but then quickly started popping every bubble within reach. Good times, special heartwarming moments that only a parent could embrace and remember forever.
An autistic child usually struggles with social and environmental interaction, meaning they may ignore Daddy’s urgings or may have no expression at all when the dog knocks them over. Those soap bubbles may not even be noticed, let alone elicit a desire to pop each and every one of them. How sad for a parent to have these joys muted or not experienced at all. How sad would it have been for a Mom to get a phone call from a happy Dad whose child just said his name, when her child has not spoken in months?
Siblings are not immune to frustrations with autistic brothers and sisters, either. A boy may roll the ball to his autistic brother, who takes no note of it, or a girl tries to get her autistic sister to play dolls or dress up with her, only to feel like her younger sister is ignoring her. Such frustrations can cause alienation between siblings and put more pressure on the parents to “do something”. But, what can parents do?
Here’s one thing they can do; enjoy their children for all they are! Just because an autistic child is different doesn’t mean they are not the same! They have the same needs; they just need to learn how to express them differently. They want to laugh and be silly, but may need different things to be silly about. Families often try so hard to integrate an autistic child into the family dynamic, they sometimes never think about integrating the family dynamic to them. Can’t get John to eat at the table with everyone else? How about everyone else eat on a blanket on the floor with John…make it an indoor picnic! Mary won’t put down the Legos to throw the ball back to you? Then, forget the ball and get building something cool with Mary from the Legos she has her mind on. James just keeps spinning around outside and won’t make a snowman with you? Did you ever spin around endlessly despite your parents warning about throwing up your lunch? You bet you did, so go spin in the snow, create some snow angels with James instead of that snowman and just maybe you will get James to crack a laugh at you and with you.
Folks, sometimes joining their world is easier…and more fun…than them joining yours. Give it a shot! You literally have nothing to lose, but everything to gain when you can let “normal” be determined by you and your family instead of what other people establish normal as. Your own autistic child can even be your guide. 🙂
Some queries you might have
1) What are the early signs of autism in babies?
2). Do autistic kids look different?
3). Can autism be treated with medication?
4). Do autistic children get better?
5). Why do autistic children scream?
6). How to potty train an autistic child?
7). Why should you love Amazon.com If you have a relative with Autism?