Since 1998, I have had the opportunity to work with children on the autism spectrum. It has been a huge blessing to be able to serve children in many different settings including home intervention, private practice, and in schools. As a therapist, we are in need of a vast amount of skills in our toolbox to serve a variety of children with a variety of abilities. Each child and family comes to us with unique needs, and it is an honor to be a part of that family’s journey.
In my current private practice, I pull on past therapy sessions to help me with treating children today. While I continue to challenge myself to stay on top of the latest in therapy techniques, no amount of training could have prepared me for the journey that began in 2005.
How Our Personal Autism Journey Began
On December 16, 2005 Emma Kate Worley was born. There is nothing like the moment when they lay your baby in your arms for the very first time. The amount of love I felt when I locked eyes with this bundle of joy cannot even be put into words. My heart and soul truly exploded with adoration for this small baby. I remember thinking, “No matter what life brings, I am here for you, sweet girl.”
When bringing Emma home from the hospital, Daddy drove while I sat in the backseat standing guard over my infant in the car seat. I had already, two days in, become Momma Bear ready for the fight. Quickly, that sweet, little bundle became the most fussy baby I had ever seen. No amount of comfort helped console her, and hard days turned into hard months. By 6 months of age, she was showing signs of developmental delays, and by her first birthday, I knew something was very different.
Our Fears Confirmed
Several other friends had children the same age as our Emma Kate. Our children were together often, and my girl did things very differently than theirs did. The simplest of skills were so difficult as well as having extreme sensory issues and virtually no sleep routine. Her communication skills were severely delayed and not functional. She truly did not profit from play experiences. She was a huge toe-walker and paced throughout the day. She was happiest when swinging or playing alone. Routines and rituals controlled our world and our daily living. Raising children is not a job for the weak or mild, but my husband and I knew we were working so much harder than our friends.
At two and a half years old, our fears were confirmed that, indeed, Emma Kate was on the autism spectrum. On our way home from the hospital, I called every therapist I knew to get her enrolled in as much therapy as possible. She had already started therapy by 15 months, but I wanted more. She needed more. Autism was not going to stop us. Autism was not going to define my child or her abilities, and so our planned journey took a major detour. Autism is not something you plan for, but as parents, we quickly learned to get on board for the new journey and bumpy ride.
Autism Can Be a Bumpy Ride
It takes unimaginable strength to persist and overcome all that a diagnosis of autism entails. From the day of diagnosis, what you had expected will forever be different. Once you accept the diagnosis, you will be able to make plans for the years ahead. At times, it will be a struggle and a fight for acceptance, services, and growth. The hard work you pour into your child now will pay off in a big way in the future. The child diagnosed at a young age is not the end result of your purpose or journey. Your daily prayers will be answered bigger than you can imagine. God made each of you, your child with autism and you, for an exact purpose. Through our journey, we have learned that we are way stronger than we ever thought possible.
Overall, autism is a heck of a wild and bumpy ride, and just like the seasons change, so do our children with an autism diagnosis. Growing up in the Midwest, we just never knew what the weather would be like. We have days of beautiful weather, and then sometimes our weather is miserable. Being a parent of a child with autism is oh-so-similar.
Mom and Dad, you better hold on real tight. Just like the changing weather in the Midwest, it could indeed get wild and crazy, and a few tears will fall. Remember that excellent communication between parents, therapists, and teachers closely working together is the key to continued progress.
When raising a child on the autism spectrum, remember these strategies:
- Pick your battles—only insist on what you can back up!
- Keep your requests or questions simple.
- Always give concrete instructions.
- Offer choices that are acceptable to you.
- Always think about what’s in it for the child.
- Make sure all family members, therapists, friends, and support systems are on the same page when working with a child with autism.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your support network.
If you work with children with autism, remember these key points:
- Stay calm.
- Use simple language.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Explain what you are doing.
- Rephrase as necessary.
- Give visual cues as needed, and do not demand eye contact.
- Be specific, and avoid figurative language.
- Remember each person is unique and may act or react differently, so always provide love and support.
- Remember you got this! You will make a difference!
Autism Awareness Month
So to all of those in the trenches with me, the month of April is for us. Happy Autism Awareness Month!
To all who have ever heard the words, “Your child has autism,” to those with the child who would not sleep, who would not eat, who would not talk, to those who watched other children achieve the simplest of milestones, to those who searched for the latest and greatest in therapy techniques, to those who watched their child struggle with huge sensory issues, to those who worried about the financial burden of raising a child with autism, to those trapped in the craziest of obsessions, to the parents who had to work so hard on their own marriage because the special needs journey is no joke, to the mom who pushed her child on a swing for hours at a time, to the one trapped in a world of constant anxiety and fear of change and the unknown…this month is for you.
The hard work pays off in a very big way. The child diagnosed at two is not the end of your journey. Your daily prayers will be answered even bigger than you can imagine. One day you will look in the eyes of your child and admit that, wow, she is going to be okay. She will indeed be just fine. She was made for an exact purpose. Hold on tight because it will be a roller coaster of emotions. But one day you will look back, and the truth is you would not have changed a thing. You are braver, stronger, and blessed beyond measure because of a child with autism. Happy Autism Awareness Month to all of you Momma Bears and Daddies, too!
More From The Author
If you would like to read more from Belinda, be sure to check out her book, An Autism Journey of Hope.
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