If you are a regular of this blog or know me personally, you are aware of the dynamics of my family. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I am going to share the personal lessons that I have learned from our autism diagnosis. Notice the use of the pronoun ‘our‘. While the diagnosis is associated with our middle child, it belongs to us all.
Lesson 1: Don’t judge.
Depending on the severity, autism can be considered an invisible condition. This is quite the situation for us. Upon glancing at our little handsome and energetic four-year-old, a stranger or someone without background knowledge makes many assumptions. A neurotypical child will more than likely engage in conversation and respond to your smiles and waves among other things.
When he doesn’t respond, there is a judgement being made.
Social interaction is one of the challenges of autism. There was a time when our son would not respond to his name, call for “mama”, “dada” or anyone. He was literally in his own world. Grocery store trips were our “thing”. I would sit him in the basket and we would stroll through the aisles – sometimes talking and sometimes me simply watching him become absorbed in the iPad. At the conclusion of the trip, the cashiers would of course attempt to speak to him, give him stickers, etc. His reactions (or lack thereof) were perceived as rude or the assumption was being made that he was ignoring folks (again rude). My way of pushing past that situation was to giggle and move on. I owe noone an explanation or rundown of medical history. Your job is to check out these groceries. In the words of Martin from You so Crazy…”Check ’em…!” (you know the rest).
When his words come out and aren’t as clear as one may assume/expect, there is a judgement being made.
We noticed his speech decline and completely disappear near the time that the diagnosis was made. Through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Occupational Therapy (OT) and Speech Therapy we are elated to hear our guy speak and attempt to conduct conversations with us, his family and peers. Certainly his speech is not in line with neurotypical children of his age, but he is speaking. Praise God!
When he begins to have (or has) a meltdown, there is absolutely a judgement being made.
Now that communication is happening, we see far fewer occurrences of meltdowns. We still see them though – both meltdowns and instances of sensory overload/need for input. These events are not pretty and may include extreme whining, crying, hitting and more. To a parent that has not been exposed to autism, this looks like bad behavior and judgement is being placed on both the parent and the child.
I say this because I used to be the parent that passed judgement. Having never been exposed to any type of sensory processing and/or neurological disorder, I was ignorant. Today, I embrace one day…actually one moment at a time and give thanks. Those moments used to rock me to my core and nearly shut me down for a substantial amount of time, but today I am much more resilient.
Autism has taught me not to judge any person’s parenting for we do not know the full story. I have applied this habit of not judging more broadly to my life in general. There are reasons (most of which we never see) why people conduct themselves in a certain manner. I also apply this “no judgement” concept to my interactions with my son and many of his behaviors can be associated with an inability to communicate his feelings. This “no judgement” way of life forces me to be more spiritually in tune with the people I love and in some instances strangers.
I share my experiences with the hope that you will think twice before making assumptions about children and parents out in these streets (or even online). We don’t know the whole story. A “good whipping” is not always the answer and it is not always an issue of “home training”. Have compassion. Stop someone else from making a judgement and when all else fails just pray.
“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.”
Stay tuned for:
- Lesson 2: Everything you need is already within.
- Lesson 3: Be kind.
- Lesson 4: The Creator makes no mistakes.
- Lesson 5: Take care of yourself.
- Lesson 6: Laugh out Loud
- Lesson 7: Remove limitations