What I learned from Parenting my Autistic child
Anyone who has had a child, knows that before you even meet that precious gift, you have dreamt of what your life is going to look like. Even when you hold your baby, and their personality starts to shine through, you dream even more. You read parenting books, talking to other parents, doctors and online groups. You want to do the very best job you possibly can. After all, this precious child is your responsibility.
I remember the pressure I felt with my first born. I literally felt like I was responsible for how this little girl was going to turn out. What if I made a mistake, what if I break her? I think back now, and chuckle to myself over those thoughts. I now have 3 teenage girls, who successfully did not break as babies. But what I didn’t know then was that my first born was Autistic.
You may wonder how I overlooked such a significant disorder, but I am not sure I really did. I just didn’t know it was Autism. Girls display very differently than boys. And most of the studies and testing have been based on the displays of boys. Girls are often misdiagnosed, or like in my case, missed all together.
When I took Jordan for her yearly check up, I mentioned to the Dr that she wasn't saying anything. Not "momma", "dadda", "babba". She was sent for a speech evaluation, which concluded that there was nothing neurologically wrong. That I was not giving her enough time to respond to my questions and she was being lazy. The centre put myself and her father in classes on how to patiently parent our child. With Jordan being our first, we really didn’t know any better and went to the classes and took notes. If I was responsible for my daughters speech delay, I wanted to be proactive and change.
When we looked around, we were amongst many multicultural families. Families that spoke their native language in the home, and tried to teach their children English as well. They had said that the developing brain sometimes takes a little longer when an infant is learning 2 languages at the same time. But that wasn’t the case in our household. We only spoke English. Her father had a British accent, so we thought maybe that was confusing for her. Except her babysitter was Asian, and they did speak their native language all day long while Jordan was in their care. So it all made sense at the time. We followed the guidelines that they laid out, and eventually, Jordan started to talk.
Here are some of the strategies that worked to help our autistic daughter start to talk:
When speaking to your child, face them and look at them directly. They will pick up on the intention and learn this is how to connect with the person you are talking to.
Only say 1 thing/idea/ask at a time. This is particularly difficult as an adult to do. We are used to multiple directions. It is really important to break it down." Jordan put your toys in the basket please", "Jordan, time to get ready for bed", Jordan, go and get your pj's on" and so on. This method of communication allowed Jordan to understand what was being asked of her, and SUCCESSFULLY complete the ask. Successfully completing the ask will build confidence in your child. They want to please you.
When your child does not respond immediately, wait for at least 10 seconds(which may seem like forever at first) before repeating the ask. Say the same thing, with the same tone. Do not get upset. If they still do not respond, then you may need to simplify your ask so they understand.
Determine if they are simply ignoring you or not understanding what you are asking of them. This is a bit more difficult than you initially think. Jordan would be very involved in her playtime with her toys. She had very intricate stories going on when she played and really didn't hear what I was saying. She was ignoring me, but not intentionally. In this instance, I would need to be in her eye line and get her attention so she would understand that I was talking to her.
Be patient, and kind to your child. Communication skills are important for them to learn, but will take repetition. Your child may not get it on the first 20 times, but they will get it. These strategies are about learning how to communicate and connect with your child so that they can thrive. I know even today, at 19, Jordan still can only really successfully complete 2 step processes. That is ok! She has the confidence in herself to know this and not get flustered with herself because of it.
It is estimated that worldwide one in 160 children has an ASD. This estimate represents an average figure, and reported prevalence varies substantially across studies. Some well-controlled studies have, however, reported figures that are substantially higher. ~ World Health Organization Nov 7, 2019
Parenting an autistic child has taught me that not everything is as it seems.
The fact that she was speech delayed is a fact, she was, and she was delayed because her brain was not processing what we were asking her to do as quickly as we were expecting an answer. Those parenting classes that we went to were so valuable in showing me how to connected with Jordan.
The skill to learn to wait and give the child time to process what you have just said is priceless. Eventually, her responses became quicker and conversations became fun and engaging. They were extremely valuable in how I parented my other 2 children, and how I talked to all kids that I came in contact with. The only thing that wasn't accurate was the reason they told me why she was delayed. In the big picture, that reason doesn’t matter.
What this has taught me was that my instincts as a mother was right on. My child was not meeting the milestones and I was right to address them with the Dr.'s. As a parent, we have that superpower to know when something is not right with our kids. I was blessed to be sent to the right specialists that were able to help me parent my child the best way for her.
Just by reading this post, you are already opening up your awareness to possibilities and becoming the support your child needs. In order to have healthy happy relationships with our children, we first must have happy healthy relationships with yourself.
I believe in you,