By now most of you would have probably viewed hundreds of different autism awareness memes, videos, blog posts and many different forms of awareness efforts, because April is Autism Awareness month. Needless to say we’ll uncover a few truths about autism in this article. I speak from a personal viewpoint, because my 7-year-old daughter is autistic.
Background for those who do not know, she was diagnosed on 2 April 2014. (Ironically on Autism Awareness Day) She was three and a half at the time. She had met most of her milestones except for speech and language; she was a feisty, independent toddler who would pretty much do everything for herself. However we knew she was different to other children her age. Once we received the diagnosis I went through phases of absolute brokenness and sadness to relief and appreciation. I was sad and broken because I didn’t know what to do, how to help my child, how to venture through the world that we were thrust into, and what “autism” meant for my child and her future. I was relieved because we finally had a label, and I mean this in a good way. Because a label gave us access to a school that understands and caters to her difference. My appreciation is for my daughter, her uniqueness, her joy and her distinctive view on life.
I am by no means an expert on autism, but I have a few truths that I can share as a parent of an autistic child.
Embrace your Child
The meaning of “embrace” , is to welcome, accept, receive enthusiastically/wholeheartedly, take up, take to one’s heart, welcome/receive with open arms. So when we embrace our child whole-heartedly, we embrace autism. We welcome, accept and receive autism. You cannot separate autism from your child. Autism is as much part of him or her as the colour of their eyes.
I have found on a number of occasions while trying to educate or inform people about autism and my daughter, I was met with a lot of sympathy. While I appreciated the compassion, the sympathizing just never sat right with me. Autism acceptance does not need sympathy or pity. As a parent of an autistic child, I need a community of people who understand and acknowledge that my child is different.
Grow a Thick Skin
In the early days when my daughter would have melt down in public, I would feel embarrassed and ashamed, because of people talking and the stares and the judgement. But I have learnt that when she does meltdown, there is a reason and in that moment she cannot communicate what it is. I needed to be her voice and her advocate, and become unconcerned by outside criticisms.
This journey I am on with my daughter has taught me so much. Like I said, I’ve been broken, and sad and some days are absolutely dim. But, we learn, we emerge and we grow stronger and wiser.
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