Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Embrace your life.... Dealing with a new autism diagnosis

Very often people ask me questions about what we did immediately after little man's diagnosis, how we handled it, how we felt, how we got to where we are now. It's funny though, I rarely think about it at all, unless prompted, I just tend to keep the "moving forward" mentality.

As a parent, when your world is shaken, when one of your children need you, you put aside your own feelings and desires and do what needs to be done for them. But what happens after the dust settles?
What happens after you have left the doctor's office, practically bogged down google with all of your searches and wiped the shelves clean in the autism section at the book store. What happens when you are overwhelmed with information and still have no idea what you are supposed to do for your child.

The easy answer here is to apply your new found understanding for your child. No one is textbook anything, but having a bit of insight as to why your child has issues with falling asleep at night, or screams murder every time you step foot into a store goes a long way when trying to figure out what to do about it. Trust your instincts, and put your child first. Remind yourself in a moment of frustration while dealing with the same issue for what feels like the hundredth time, that it is harder for them to feel out of control then it is for you to feel annoyed or frustrated or embarrassed. Remember that a scream, physical outburst, or a total shutdown is a desperate attempt from your child when they are feeling most lost to ask for help.

Probably the most important thing that each autism parent has to learn and accept is that THIS IS NOT THE FAULT OF YOU OR YOUR CHILD. Parents tend to shame themselves with "what did I do wrong?" and "But I take such good care of him/her" and even "Not my child!" This sort of negative thinking is unhealthy and counterproductive for both you and your child. Imagine a world where people looked at you like you were broken just because you are not an exact carbon-copy of little Timmy who lives next door. Children should grow up believing they are special, not sick.

Grieve your loss. In order to shed unwanted negative feelings about the situation, you must first face them. Every parent to be begins to map out all the different possibilities for their coming child's life. What will they look like, what sort of personality will they have, will they get her sense of humour, or his forgivable nature, schools, careers, relationships, grandchildren, etc, etc.
In all of the different scenarios played out in your mind, I doubt having an autistic child with unfamiliar issues was one of them. I doubt you thought you would have meetings months before school started to set up game plans for the coming school year, or that you would need to attend social groups so that your four year old can learn how to say "Hi" to another child. You probably never imagined that your child would be a part of a growing statistic and that sometimes people would forget that you have a child, not just a diagnosis.
Well, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry". It is okay to be disappointed, it is okay to feel sad. Grieve the loss of a life that you had planned for your child. Grieve the fact that you won't be holding their hand through life pointing out the path for them, but then embrace your new life, allow them to lead you. Discover a new life together, and you will be amazed at how beautiful it is.

Help your child. I am not nor have I been on a search for a cure for autism. My little man is who he is and I love him just the way he was made. I would not want to change him, and I don't see autism as a disease to be cured. With autism however, there are complications that will inhibit your child from reaching their full potential and leading a happy life. Without sufficient communication skills, your child will be hard pressed to find healthy relationships. If violent outbursts are common, your baby might be secluded from others in the class and treated as a threat instead of a student.
Just like with any other characteristic about any child, it presents it's own sets of challenges and blessings. For us, diet, natural health, and consistent reiteration of appropriate outlets have been key. Our little man still flaps his hands when he's excited, and feels the need to excuse himself frequently from social settings, but we are getting farther away from the screaming, hitting, and irrevocable loss of control. We are not taking away his autism, we are helping him to become a happy adult, that's our job as parents.

My final piece of advice is to celebrate the small successes. It is easy to see the negative side of any situation, but if you look for the small bits of happiness inside of a trying situation, life will be much more pleasant and you and your child will be happier. All any of us really want is to have happiness for our children and for ourselves. Allow yourselves this, whether it's celebrating the fact that your six year old had finally potty trained, or that your nine year old has made his first real friend. Don't cheat yourself out of happiness by focusing on the fact that it "took longer than it should have" or that they still aren't meeting milestones.

Remember that for every bad day, a good one is right behind it. Be thankful for your beautiful, honest, and true hearted children, they are exactly where they are supposed to be, and so are you.

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