I'll never forget the day the doctor told me that my son was autistic. At the time, I thought getting the autism diagnosis was the worst thing possible. I couldn't envision a good life for my son or my family. All I could see was the negative. "He won't be able to do this or that." As a single parent, I worried about how I was going to cope with this on my own. What if something happened to me? Who would step up to take care of him? I have to admit, I was a wreck. My mom was the one who pointed out that life wasn't over but a new one was just beginning.
Mom was right. Aren't they always? I didn't try to hide behind the diagnosis. I boldly told family and friends. The majority of folks were very supportive and a few kind of dropped off the radar. No worries. What I've learned along the way is that the autism community is a strong one. A brave bunch of warriors, I must say! I've been blessed to meet many autism parents -- two in my own church! There are a few things that all autism parents need and crave. Here are five of them:
- Understanding. There are going to be times when you invite me to an event and I'm not going to be able to go. Even if I do go, I'm probably going to be thinking about him the whole time. Plus, it's just too hard to find a reliable, caring babysitter for my autistic son, someone who will understand that he needs his tablet fully charged or he'll get upset. Someone who knows just how many chicken nuggets go on which plate. Someone who will turn his TV to The Weather Channel and put it on the exact volume. Please don't be offended when I decline your invitation. Because crowds and loud noises make him extremely anxious, bringing him along is not an option lots of times. Trust me, I really do want to spend time with you. And yes, I know, these things might seem weird to you and you may even accuse me of babying my son. But I've decided to live in my son's autism world and not try to force him to live in mine. I've got plenty of good books to read and DIY projects to tackle. So, please understand and don't judge.
- Acceptance. My son may not be like your kid but you know what? That's just fine with me. I accept him for who he is and not who I want him to be or what society thinks he should be. We all have special gifts and something to contribute to this world. Having a disability doesn't make my son or the millions of others any less important. Take the time to encourage and strengthen in love. Give them a chance to show what they can do and accept who they are. You might learn something new in the process.
- Time. One thing I find myself short on is time so if you wouldn't mind checking in to see if we need anything from the store, that would be great! I try to keep my stockpile of his favorite foods available but sometimes I might run out and if you've ever been in the house with an autistic child who doesn't have what they are use to, it ain't pretty! You'd be doing me a huge favor and when I get the chance, I'll return the favor with a baked sweet treat!
- Support. Being a single parent of an autistic child is not easy and I find myself beating myself up over not spending enough time with my other sons. So, if you could, would you mind inviting them over for a while? They need attention, too and sometimes my hands are just too full, as hard as that is to admit. Doesn't have to be anything extravagant. They love pizza, playing basketball and video games. The boys love their brother and they are super with him but I want them to have a childhood too. When you see them, give them a "high five" and tell them you're proud of them for getting good grades, cleaning their room without being told, being involved in the church and for just being all-around good kids. It'll mean a lot to them and to me. It truly does take a village to raise up a child.
And the last thing an autism parent needs is...
- Prayer. Please don't pity my son or my family. We don't need it. We don't want it. You don't know the battles we're fighting each and every day. We want you and need you to keep us in your prayers - to give us the grace and patience to love our autistic jewel. Pray that he can find his way in this world and that people will love him for who he is and not who they think he should be. Give me the wisdom to know how to be the best advocate I can be for my special gift from God. Pray over our resources and that I can continue to provide for my family. And pray that one day all autistic families find the peace, love and acceptance they so deserve.
Have you been blessed with an autistic child? I'd love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment. Let's support each other.