Tag Archives | love

My advice for parents that have just received their child’s autism diagnosis

One of the more common questions I get from people that give seminars, write journalism columns or otherwise somehow speak to many people at once is, “what advice would I give to parents that have just had their child diagnosed with autism?”

Here it is, in 4 parts.

1. Be selfless

When the doctor says those 3 scary little words “Autism Spectrum Disorder”, your heart sinks. No matter how positive you are, no matter how optimistic and no matter what great things you’ve heard about autism… it’s a heavy weight to bear.

In that instant, all of our hopes and dreams for our child are lost. We see a little human being with all of our visions of the future beyond their grasp. We see a child that will never be all of the things we thought they could be.

The thing is, those are our hopes. They are our dreams. They are our visions of the future. They are what we think that child should grow up to be. Us… us… US.

Letting go of that is hard. Some parents are never able to let that go.

But you have to realize, that’s your selfish side speaking. And I’m not saying that it’s not ok. It’s perfectly understandable and acceptable to be selfish where it pertains to your child. We all want what’s best for our children. We all want our children to reach for the stars and beyond.

But, you see, they will reach for the stars. It’ll just be in a different way.

They might not grow up to be like mom or dad and they might not even grow up to do all the other cool things you’ve imagined they could do but what they do decide to do, will be amazing.

They might not be your dreams or what you envisioned but, if you learn to let go of that and support your child in their dreams, you’ll find that nothing was ever truly lost.

You may be saying, “that’s all well and good for children that progress well and go to school and can manage on their own but my child will never have that”, it is not my intention to dismiss your burden. And all of the things I’m saying here will still apply. It will just be even harder still. And to you, I’d like to address this further in the next part…

2. Take stock in what you have

Sometimes I meet parents that are just so dark. They feel like they’ve lost everything and that their child was lost to them. They really believe that autism has stolen their child and ruined their future. And it hurts. It hurts me because no one should ever have to feel that way. And there’s nothing I can say or do that will help them.

But maybe, if a parent who is on the path towards feeling that way can be reached out too, perhaps those feelings can be prevented or avoided.

I’d like to tell you about my visits to Sick Kids Hospital with my son. One time for surgery and one time for allergy testing.

Walking through a place like that, you see children without hair and looking very pale and weak. You see children missing limbs or even an eye. You see children that are unable to see, hear and even those that are unable to move.

The hardest, I think, is seeing parents that are holding each other, crying so hard that in one moment are crying out louder than you’ve ever heard and in the next moment, crying so hard that they can’t even make a sound.

They moved into the hospital to be with their child in those final months, sometimes years. They know real loss. They’ve lost their house and jobs. They’ve lost the lives they once knew because for the time they’ve been in there, life has moved on without them.

But their child was worth it. For as short as their life was, it was a life. A beautiful and wonderful life and that life deserved to be loved. That child struggled for every day that they could.

For those parents, it was hard. Very hard. Harder than I could ever imagine it being and will probably, hopefully, never truly know.

But being there was worth it.

The reason I’m saying this is that, whether your child has autism or not, your child is right there, in front of you and your child needs you to be there with them.

Don’t be off fighting your battles or mourning your losses. Instead, move in to their room and be there with them.

Yes, you could take away from this story that things could always be worse or that they could always be better but that’s not what I’m trying to tell you. Instead, do as those parents did, do as they wish they could continue doing right now.

Take stock in what you have and live it. Your child has autism. It’s not a death sentence, it’s not an ending. Their life will be different than what you expected and it might even get really hard, but your child is right there wanting you to be a part of it.

3. Support is where you give it

It might not seem like it at first, when you know so little about autism or the struggles that it will bring, but your experiences are already and will prove to be quite valuable.

Every day, people are sharing their stories online and in support groups and one day, if you’re willing, that could be you.

Right now, someone is wanting to hear about the process you had to go through to get the diagnosis complete. Someone is wanting to hear about how you are feeling right now. Right now, someone is wanting to hear that they’re simply not alone.

If you are willing to reach out, even just a little bit, people just like you will be wanting to reach back. But if you close yourself off and bury yourself in that feeling of being so very alone, which we all feel (it’s not just you), you’ll miss all of those shared stories and all of those shared experiences. That one smiling face or reassuring word that you needed at just the right time will be missed unless you are willing to first step out and offer a warm smile too.

Autism is so very different from person to person, family to family, life to life but at the same time, we all share something so common and so fundamental that we already have this bond that we only need build stronger… and that’s our children. Our children need us.

What more reason do we need to support each other?

Unconditional love4. Love unconditionally

Whether your child has autism or not, can remember Pi to a thousand places or bangs their head against the wall, will go on to big and successful things or live out their days in a care facility…. no matter what, you must love your child unconditionally.

Many people say it as just a figure of speech or, while understanding it’s meaning, don’t really take into account the real scale of it.

Loving unconditionally does not mean that you love your child despite autism. Loving unconditionally means that you love your child with autism.

That no matter what your child does have, doesn’t have, does do, doesn’t do, will become, won’t become, who they were, who they were not, none of it matters, not one piece of any of it will ever take away from who your child is or the love you have for them.

You don’t get to love your child except for the part of them you don’t like. That’s not how “unconditionally” works.

When you fall in love with your true love, your soul mate, your bride or groom to be for the rest of your life, you accept them at their best and their worst, they’re best features and even their faults. You love them for who they are and wouldn’t change a thing.

The same thing applies, even more so, for your child.

Love your child for who they are, not for who they are even though you wish they could have been someone else, or someone more. Love your child for what they can do, right now, not for what they can do even though you wish they could do more.

Love your child. Period. Just love your child. Your child is perfect because your child is your child.

One day, maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow but one day, you’ll look back and realize just how much of a difference that really makes. It may seem like such a trivial thing at the time but it’s not.

One day, your child will look back and will know that they were never meant to feel like less than they should be. They will never feel like a disappointment in your eyes. Not even a part of them. They will never feel like they were the cause for your lost hopes and dreams.

What you do today, by truly loving unconditionally, will be your autistic child’s source of strength in years to come.

Do you see how important that is? Do you see how powerful that is?

What I’m saying is, without true, real unconditional love, one day, your child will believe less in themselves than they should, than they really need to, because they’ll look back on all the times you were disappointed in how they were less than they should be, less than you wanted them to be. And they’ll doubt themselves. They’ll feel what you felt.

And it won’t be the autism that holds them back, it will be because of the flaws and faults you saw in them that whole time. They’ll believe it because you believed it and it will stop them from achieving their true potential.

I know, if your child was just diagnosed, that’s a lot to take in and it’s even harder to do. Chances are it will take time and even though it seems like a roller coaster of a ride, you do have time.

Just keep it in mind. Loving your child, unconditionally, truly unconditionally, could be what makes the biggest difference in their life. Not the autism or any other struggles that autism can bring.

Your love. It’s just that powerful.

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Know your child is how you want your child to be

Whether you feel that Autism needs to be cured or not, we’ve all had that moment where we thought our newly diagnosed child was doomed to a complicated struggle of a life and that they will never amount to what others see as average, much less the lofty goals and dreams we had before the diagnosis.

There is certainly nothing wrong with this, it is natural. It is a scary thing to have happen to you and to your child.

Less than perfect

For many people, that feeling of disappointment and fear of the future passes. Maybe not entirely, but for the most part. They learn to accept that their child is how they are and that they’re perfectly wonderful just the way they are. It’s certainly not without it’s struggles but parents take each day as they are and love their child unconditionally… no matter what.

Then there are those parents who hold on to that disappointment and will always fear the future. They see their children as damaged or defective and seek vengeance (or justice) on those who are responsible. They will never accept that their child was meant to be how they are.. and who they were meant to be was robbed from them.

I don’t know who is right and I don’t know who is wrong, I don’t know if there is a villain to bring to justice… but what I do know is that no child should ever feel that their parent sees them as less than perfect… much less broken or defective.

Few exceptions

Even a child that does not speak, does not engage their parents, does not play and has all the other “severe” indications of “low functioning” autism can sometimes surprise us. The right tool, device or incentive can help some of these people “find their voice” and show the world what they’re truly made of.

It makes many people think that a lot of autistics have it within them to do this. You, and they, just have to find a way.

If true (which I believe it likely is, at least for some), then the things you say, do and even think will be picked up and even understood by your child. Even more so if your child is able to express themselves and communicate better.

Even if you try to hide it, if you truly believe that your child is broken or defective, it will affect your child. Perhaps the parent is a little less affectionate, perhaps they’re a little less encouraging… these things will resonate with your child. It may be on some subconscious level or it may just be a hint of self doubt that lives within them into adulthood.

Few children are able to excel despite a parent’s disapproval, few children are able to truly be self confident when their own parents do not believe in them first. Some children can overcome that but doesn’t a child with autism have enough to overcome already?

perfection

Unconditional love

I’m not saying that you are wrong if you fight for a cure, I’m not saying you’re wrong if you are fighting to put a stop to what ever you believe is the cause of autism… what I am asking for is… please stop seeing your child as broken.

Accepting your child for who they are, right now, right in front of you… it does not mean giving up. It certainly doesn’t mean you don’t care. All it means is that you love your child, through and through, 100%, no matter what.

Know that your child is perfect, know that your child is who they are and encourage them to always be themselves. Know it.

Don’t just think it and don’t just make it something you say so that you can feel better about yourself for making them feel better about themself… you need to believe it. You need to know it.

This is your child and your child deserves that much from you.

Once you believe it, the real miracles start to happen.

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Humans are social beings. So if you’re not social, what are you?

Taken from Wikipedia:

Humans are social beings. In comparisons with animalia, humans are regarded like the primates for their social qualities. But beyond any other creature, humans are adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization, and as such have created complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups. Human groups range from families to nations. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society.

This makes me wonder… what about the people who are not adept at utilizing those systems of communication for self-expression? Is this why some people instinctively see special needs people as less than human somehow? Is this why, when a person is unable to use those systems, to communicate or demonstrate self-expression, they are thought to be “in their own world?”

It sounds a little harsh, to think that, if a person isn’t social, that society would view them as “less than human”… but really, this shouldn’t be new to anyone. Aristotle thought this way too.

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ” 
― Aristotle

Granted, he included the “more than human” but that’s likely in reference to the savants or prodigies that lock themselves away to work tirelessly on what ever it is that they do.

I mean… a beast or a god? Really?

how to win friends

No wonder this sells so well!

Says Who?

Personally, I have always questioned: If everyone is different, why would everyone have to have friends?

Think about it. Every single person is different. All seven billion. And yet poets and story tellers continue to tell you that everyone needs someone to love and everyone has to have friends.

Why?

Why can’t a person be ok with not having friends? Where did the term “hermit” come from if there aren’t people out there who prefer to be left alone?

Feeling Lonely

Everyone feels lonely sometimes. People that have more friends than they can count can feel lonely sometimes. Is it more likely for a person that has no friends? Sure, but perhaps there’s a reason for that besides the fact that they are alone.

Think about it… why would a person who prefers to be alone be lonely because they are alone? It doesn’t make sense.

In my past, when I had no friends because I was working so hard, I felt very lonely and very depressed. But it wasn’t because I had no friends.

I felt that way because I was conditioned to. Every poem or story I read, every movie I saw, every person I talked to would tell me that I had to have friends…. more so, I had to have love.

Not one person or piece of entertainment told me that it was ok to be alone. In the movies, the hermits would eventually find a family or a place to live and “finally be happy” with others. The others would either eventually commit suicide or “remain alone for the rest of their days”…  ugh.

Be Yourself

Other than highschool peers, people will tell you to be yourself. That you’re unique. You’re different. There isn’t another person out there like you.

But you have to have friends, like everyone else, because everyone else does… or else you’re “beneath our notice”.

It’s very contradicting and it’s very belittling and it’s very confusing.

Sure, a lot of people without friends do not choose for it to be that way and therefore, have every right to feel lonely and a little down. But some people want to be that way… they eventually find themselves depressed and aren’t sure why.

In either case, don’t listen to Aristotle… don’t listen to the media, entertainment or poets… it’s ok to have no friends. It might be temporary. It might not. Depending on what you want.

But be yourself.

Who knows, you may think you want to be alone only to find that you really don’t… once you are confident enough to be yourself… confidence attracts… friends!

But you are still very much human, friends or not… love or not. Want it, don’t want it… it doesn’t matter, just so long as you are yourself. Friends and love, they’re out there. I won’t think any less of you for wanting them or not wanting them.

You don’t have to have friends to be happy but it certainly helps to be happy if you want to have friends.

So either way… be happy for being you.

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Balancing the attention between one child with Autism and another child without Autism

One of the most powerful scenes in the NBC hit tv show Parenthood, for me, was when the father sat down to talk to his daughter about how he missed her soccer game due to her younger brother’s Aspergers diagnosis. He needed to be somewhere with his son and couldn’t make it to her big soccer match.

He apologized for how disruptive it had all been for her the last couple of weeks, at which point she says “Weeks? Dad… try years.”

It came as quite a shock to him as she sat there and listed off a bunch of events in their life that was affected by Max (her younger brother with Aspergers)… “ever since I can remember, it’s been all about Max.”

It’s at this point, I wished television had a “look inside his head and see what he is thinking” component but it doesn’t.. in a way, it’s a good thing because that leaves you and I to really take it in with him and realize…. wow.

Advice on how to maintain balance

Cameron and Tyler

Brothers

I’ve had a lot of people ask me lately how I maintain balance between my two boys, Cameron (6yrs old with Autism) and Tyler (3yrs old without Autism)… the truth is, I just keep them both and the need to keep them balanced in my mind.

That may be hugely over simplifying it but at the core, that’s it. I am just always conscious of it and even concerned about it. I don’t want either of them to ever feel left out. So every time I’m with one of them, I wonder what the other is doing or thinking.

Cameron is in a special class, it’s a very very different class from Tyler’s class. He gets better technology to use, there’s less children, more adults and even though the routines are more strict, the structure is less so. Being a class of autistic children, there’s no real curriculum, not in the sense that some other classes have anyway.

We’ve missed out on carnivals and amusement parks because the noise and crowds would simply be too much for Cameron. That means that Tyler has missed out as well. We have avoided some restaurants because Cameron might be overwhelmed at them… that means that Tyler has missed out as well.

Right now, Tyler is 3 and so, that old cliche about not missing what you don’t know about applies. But soon he will…. and he may resent having missed out on some things in his life due to his older brother.

So, every time we don’t do something or change something to accommodate Cameron, we have to keep Tyler in mind… going to a different restaurant, or someplace else that is fun.

It likely never really balances exactly but it’s something. So long as you’re conscious of it, it’s something. An effort will be made.

It goes both ways

When Cameron was little, like, really little, he needed some snuggle time with me every single morning when he first woke up. As he got a little older, he rejected that idea. He not only didn’t need it but didn’t want it. Now he enjoys a hug from time to time, we have our routine hugs and kisses before bed but any semblance of affection in the traditional sense beyond that is nowhere to be seen. Which is ok by me. I know he loves me with or without it.

Tyler on the other hand loves to snuggle while he watches tv, gives me hugs quite often and is not shy about showing his affection at all.

Sometimes this has me wondering though, as I sit with Tyler on my lap watching tv while Cameron is in a chair across the room… does Cameron feel left out?

I have asked him multiple times and will continue to do so from time to time, if he’d like to sit on the couch with me, he always says no… and I respect that. Still though, a part of me wonders if there’s a small part of him that actually would like to but prevents him from doing so. I’m not sure I could describe it adequately enough but you get the idea… a part of him longs for that show of affection but a bigger part of him prevents him going through with it.

It’s also entirely possible that he doesn’t feel left out at all and really couldn’t care less that I snuggle with Tyler and not with him. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that I’ll never really know for sure… or if I do, it’ll be later in life… when it’s too late.

The future

The problem with all of this is the resentment… what we all fear of our children, regardless of special needs. The last thing we want is for our children to resent each other for something that was our, the parent’s, fault. Something that we could have done better, avoided, recognized… done something about.

Hindsight… it hurts because by the time you get it, it’s too late.

Unfortunately, I don’t know your family dynamic, I don’t know you and I don’t know you’re children… so I won’t be writing any blog posts on tactics to use or methods to apply to your daily life. The only thing I have to offer is…. keep it in mind.

So long as you keep yourself aware of it, you’ll do something about it. Your mind kind of makes you do it.

There are quite a few articles out there, by doctors, with good suggestions… like having nights dedicated to each child, having “desires” lists for each child where they each get to have their desires fulfilled… putting them on equal footing…  some of those articles will have some insights that may help you.

But ultimately, only you can know what will and won’t keep things fair and balanced. In fact, chances are you won’t know, not at first. But you’ll figure it out… so long as you always keep it in mind.

Me?

I give Cameron an extra “I love you” from across the room while I have Tyler sitting on me. I just like for Cameron to know that Tyler may be on my lap, but I’m thinking about him too.

See? It’s not complicated. It’s not worth putting into a “how to” article to share with the world. It’s something I do… you’ll find something you can do.

Just remember, it’s not just the negatives (missing out on things, avoiding fun stuff, etc) that cause resentment… it’s the good things too (showing affection, spending more time with, etc).

Keep each child in your mind equally because they are equals. They deserve to be treated that way.

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The complexities of a hug

My son used to need snuggle time with me every morning when he first woke up. For the first little while, it was a bit of an annoyance (I sometimes had other things I needed to do) but a very pleasant and welcomed one. I cherished that time we had each morning and even though he refuses to do that with me anymore, I still remember it fondly.

While he never was a hugger or anything, that snuggle time was pretty awesome… but, once he no longer desired that, it all came to a stop. He still loved me but there were no more “signs” of love, in the traditional sense.

Then, a few years later, he become more and more willing to give and receive hugs… until eventually he became to depend on them. Every single night, before bed, we do hugs and even kisses… as regularly and routinely as we had done when we had our morning snuggles.

This too will stop one day, as he gets older, but that’s ok. I love it for right now and knowing what I know about Autism, it’s not something that I would ever take for granted.

How does a hug work?

hugsNo one ever thinks to ask what it is about a hug that makes it so comforting… how does it work, what the rules when hugging? That’s because it pretty much comes naturally. Someone hugs you, you hug back and all is good with the world.

It just isn’t that simple for my son. I mean, for the most part, he gets it… he loves to hug me before bed and there is no way he could get that wrong.

Have you ever hugged someone because they got hurt or felt sad? Cameron does that too… all on his own. No one taught him that. However, this is where the complication comes in.

Egg timer?

Believe it or not, at this point, we have to start timing his hugs… so that he knows when to let go. That may sound a little odd but basically, it’s become necessary.

When his little brother is hurt, Cameron will grab him, and hug him with every fiber of his being… and not let go. To Cameron, that’s what you’re supposed to do.

And I love that about him… I truly do. He really truly cares, he really truly is trying to make it all better for his little brother.

But if you’ve ever grabbed onto an upset 3 year old and tried to hold him there, you know that it doesn’t work very well. After a few seconds, the little guy goes completely nuts and matters only escalate from there.

This makes Cameron want to hold on tighter.

When his little brother gets more upset, Cameron holds on more, thinking that it will help. He’s truly a wonderful big brother, I love that about him. However, he’s going to need a little guidance on this one.

Hug Instructions

As a parent of a child with Autism, I’m sure you can relate with this but…. there are just some things in life that you never imagined you’d have to give instructions on. Like giving a hug for example.

But that’s what it boils down to. Hug instructions.

The trick is to make Cameron understand that he’s not doing anything wrong. That we are so very happy that he loves his little brother and that he wants so bad to make everything all better.

While reassuring him of that, we simply need guide him in how to do it in a more appropriate fashion… for example, counting to 5 and then letting go. Recognizing when his little brother gets MORE upset and then letting go. Things like that.

And they’ll take time and take work, but it’s so worth it because I’d hate for Cameron to feel bad about what he’s doing and shut it out of his life forever.

I lost those morning snuggles and while I understood why and I didn’t really mind, I realized never to take such a wonderful thing for granted. And it’s entirely selfish of me, in a way, but I don’t want to lose Cameron’s desire to hug us.

And as much as his little brother gets upset when Cameron holds on too long… I’m fairly sure that he wouldn’t want his big brother to stop either.

Who knew that hugging could be so complicated?

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