The numbers are humbling and a bit frightening: diagnosed cases of autism in young children are on the rise. While the debate continues on exactly why these numbers are climbing, parents of the children who receive this diagnosis are often left in a churning sea of emotions. For some, understanding these parents and what they’re going through may be a bit difficult.
The truth is, we don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. It can sometimes be a touchy subject and it should be handled with care.
As parents, we tend to know our child better than anyone. These parents already notice their child’s “non-typical” behavior, but hate having their fears confirmed. They already suspected long before an official diagnosis that something wasn’t “right” and yet hearing professionals confirm this knowledge still feels like a huge blow to the chest; it hurts. It’s difficult to accept that there is actually something “wrong” with your child and that they are struggling.
It’s even harder to accept the fact that you can’t “fix” it automatically. In a very real way, there is a period of grieving for parents of a child with autism. Coming to terms with this reality is the toughest part; however, it does get better!
Regardless of circumstance, a child is still a child and not a label. Although we may believe that we already know this, it’s always good to have a friendly reminder. We’re human and sometimes our subconscious thoughts get the best of us.
Parents of children with autism are still parents who view their child as their light, love, and gift. The new “people first language” (where the child is placed before the diagnosis; for example: A “child with autism,” not an “autistic child”) is meant to keep the focus on the child as a person and not as their label.
Being conscious of our choice of words is extremely important. They may seem like just words, but sometimes words hit harder than sticks and stones. Acknowledging these kids for who they are and not what they have can make all the difference in the world.
Despite what it may look like, they know how to handle their child; often seeing a parent of a child with autism “from the outside” can be a bit misleading. What appears to be the “ignoring” of a screaming child or a child having a temper tantrum is often the way the parent copes with the behavior or even what the child needs from the parent. Children with autism live on their own plane of existence; it doesn’t have to make sense to you or me. When you see a parent “ignore” their child, there’s often a good reason; to intervene can cause the child to escalate and become louder or react with harmful behavior.
While many children with autism won’t be able to live independently, every person has the ability to learn skills and function in daily life. We all want our kids to succeed and go further than we have. I was proud when I received my BA. I was the first in my family to ever receive a higher education degree. This past December, my son graduated with a Master’s degree. He exceeded my own accomplishments and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Parents of children with autism want that for their child, too. They want their child to succeed and flourish to their full potential, even if that is just simply learning to wash their hands or feed themselves. They could have hopes for them to finish school, go to college, or even just finally hearing them say the words “I love you too.” They always try to help their child strive to be the best, whatever that best may be.
All parents worry about the future; having a child is a lifelong responsibility. We all wonder and worry what the future holds for our kids, whether it’s an hour from now or ten years. Parents of a child with autism fear what their child’s life would be without them, constantly worrying about who will be there to support and care for them. This is why support is detrimental. These parents tend to struggle with having peace of mind because they’re constantly thinking about this, but knowing that they have an abundance of support can definitely help ease their worries.
Above anything else, these parents want others to know that they feel blessed, even if others may not think so. They don’t want “sympathy” or “pity,” but rather would just like for others to understand.