'I have three autistic daughters. Here's what I wish I knew'
"Autism really forces a family to see things in a unique light and go with the flow, and I’d love to be able to share the things about parenting autistic kids that I wish I’d known at the beginning..."
It’s been almost seven years now since I was handed the diagnosis of autism for my eldest daughter from our paediatrician. After many years of struggling to understand how to best parent her, after many years of not knowing what the f*ck I was doing and trying every single strategy I could think of (some of which I didn’t even agree with, but tried out of desperation) – the diagnosis was received with a huge sense of relief.
Seven years on, two more of my four daughters have also been diagnosed as autistic as well as my husband, which came not very long after my eldest daughter’s diagnosis and we were able to quickly draw parallels.
I won’t try and sugar-coat things by saying that everyday in our family is #blessed and wonderful, because obviously like every family we have had our challenges and will no doubt encounter more in the future.
However autism really forces a family to see things in a unique light and go with the flow, and I’d love to be able to share the things about parenting autistic kids that I wish I’d known at the beginning.
Parenting strategies for autism: What I Learnt
The diagnosis is a gateway to support, understanding and self-identity
I implore parents out there who are scared of “labelling” their children with a diagnosis to please see things from a different perspective. At the end of the day, your child is going to be labelled one way or another – but at least with an autism label, they’ll be able to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and why they behave/think/process and feel the way they do.
Please don’t be scared of a diagnosis. I can guarantee you anyway, that your child very likely already knows they’re different to others.
Having a diagnosis can give them a greater understanding and acceptance of self, and prevent them from internalising shame and hatred for their individuality – and instead learn to embrace it. It’s also a huge gateway to support and understanding from others.
Remove social expectations
One thing that made my daughter’s life a lot easier was when I gave up trying to place my social expectations and wishes onto her, and instead started accepting her for who she was and what she wanted.
I had to learn that her friendships and socialising looks a lot different to mine and that’s OK. Some days her need for quiet overrides her need to spend time with people.
I can tell you now that not everyone will understand a child who has unique needs to others, the ones that matter are the ones that will see them for who they are, not who they should be.
Gently stretch the comfort zones, little by little
I remember the days where our entire lives were governed by strict routines and rituals, it felt like a prison some days. If I so much as got the cup wrong, made the wrong meal or even drove a different way to school everyone in our family would be hearing about it.
I was constantly anxious, just waiting for the inevitable meltdowns. So I found myself doing the same things all the time, to make it easier.
Except really, that only made things harder long term because change became more unknown and scary. My advice is to find good supports, and gently stretch the comfort zones a little every day, bit by bit. I even made one of my daughters an “I Did It Book” where we’d write down all the scary things she didn’t think she could do, but did.
Make therapy work for everyone
Talking of supports, having them in place is really invaluable. But I’d highly recommend finding an occupational therapist that will do home visits so you can avoid spending your life in and out of the car and in waiting rooms.
That isn’t really fun for anyone. Therapy needs to be fun and engaging to be effective, so make sure it’s play-based and if a therapist isn’t clicking with your child – then find another one.
Think of down time alone as a priority, not an optional luxury
We all know self-care is *the* most cliched term in the history of the world, but it isn’t a joke when it comes to parenting autistic children – or any children, really!
I am a way more impatient, resentful and angrier mother when I don’t get some time to myself. Think of getting time alone without children as routine as putting on pants in the morning – not a luxury, a necessity. Otherwise what inevitably happens is burn out and believe me when I say that it isn’t possible to give on an empty cup.
Finally, I wish I knew at the beginning to trust my gut instinct, and act now rather than wait and see.
I wish I knew that the opinions of others about my children matter less than embracing them for who they are.
I wish I knew from the start that my resilience and abilities as a mother and advocate are far greater than I ever could have imagined.
I’ve got this.
This article was written by Jessica Offer and republished with permission from KidSpot.