The Lessons They Teach

For an Autism mom, there is a little more work than just guiding our children through life and raising them to one day fly from our little nest. My two boys were diagnosed with Autism, and my daughter is smack dab in the middle of them. Often, there are hidden struggles and triumphs inside our home. Simply having a child try a new food, or welcome a sibling into their personal space is a huge achievement. Physical and verbal meltdowns over the colour of a dinner plate, or someone being too loud, is a daily struggle. I have shed a lot of tears of sadness, joy, and acceptance. The tears of acceptance are the ones I am most proud of.

When I first started my journey with Autism, I really didn’t know what I was in for. For a short time, I feared the future and questioned whether or not my boys would be able to have a fulfilling and independent life. I worried about things like how their peers would view them, especially when they were having a full out meltdown. Meltdowns aren’t easy, but we have learned how to cope. I once only knew how to punish the behaviour and overtime have learned about the function or reason for their behaviour. When I took a step back (and a lot of deep breaths), I was able to examine why these meltdowns were occurring. My kids aren’t trying to be bad. There are things that get to them, and they either don’t know how to respond, or can’t control how they respond. The daily struggles in our home have been control over impulses, self regulation, and sensory input. We started to experience more triumphs when I looked at my children individually for what they were teaching me. Behind every struggle is a lesson.

Keegan - 11 years

My oldest son Keegan, is nearly 11-years-old and Autistic. He has taught me how to forgive. At times, others may see him taking his time and acting like a procrastinator. In reality, he is lost in the beauty of a robin on the front lawn, or the way the trees so gracefully flow with the wind. He relishes in things like the smell of the rain, and deeply breathes in each breath, feeling the negativity wash away, preparing for a fresh clean start.

Family is the most important thing to him. He struggles a lot with things like noise, personal space, and self regulation. It breaks my heart seeing him go through this on a daily basis. Keegan has found that solitude works best for him. I used to be concerned that he was always alone in his room, but I have learned to accept that space provides him with comfort and less stress. When I raise my voice to him, I immediately see his little heart break. I still catch myself going to say things like "act your age" or "you should know better". The truth is, he is acting exactly how he needs to act. His little body and brain are always on the defence. He is constantly under the stress of trying to ignore the sounds of others, as well as the irritations of his siblings or peers. There are many times I have dropped to my knees crying, telling him how sorry I am for the way I spoke to him and for how I made him feel. He so easily forgives though, and knows I don’t mean to hurt his feelings. He always makes sure that I know how much he loves me, even if he already told me 100 times that day. I have learned that he needs soft words and a lot of love. When I stopped raising my voice, he started to flourish.

Kaydence - 7 years

My daughter Kaydence is 7-years-old. She has shown me how to be more present. For the longest time, I was carrying a lot of guilt, feeling like I was “putting her on the back burner”. The boys seemed to be taking up so much of my time with appointments, meetings, and general care-taking. When she simply wanted to show me a drawing she had done, I was finding myself saying things like “not now sweetie, I’m busy". She would then run away screaming that I had no time for her or that she wasn’t important to me, and that I didn’t love her. I almost feel as though I lost a few years with her, years that I will never get back. I learned to admit the guilt to myself and figured out ways to take her off that back burner. I trained myself to immediately stop what I am doing when she has something to show me and look intently into her little eyes. This is so important for every child, and it really isn’t that difficult. I let her know that I care, I am here, and I really want to see that beautiful drawing. I don’t hear that I don’t love her as much now, but when I do, I know it's time to give myself a reality check and get back on the same page as her. She has taken on a new role in our family, and I believe it makes her feel very important and highly needed. She is very hands on with my youngest son. She gives him deep-pressure massages when he is melting down and consoles him when he is sad. She is so proud of herself. Autism has affected her life greatly, but she took a hold of it and figured out how to be there for others.

Kelston - 6 years

My youngest son Kelston is 6-years-old and Autistic. He is the biggest handful out of the bunch. He is the reason we have latches on all of our doors, and the reason why I don’t like silence, as he has always been the one to get into things when I thought they were quietly playing. My eyes and ears are always on him. We used to not go out to restaurants because of the way he behaved. He does things like crawl under the tables, make loud noises or run all over the place. Most times our visit ends with relentless crying until we leave. I told myself that he will never learn how to behave in a restaurant if we didn’t keep trying. So, we have been trying, amidst the stares and glares, with headphones and a tablet in our arsenal, and he is learning what is acceptable, at his own pace. Kelston has taught me how to compromise and accept things for what they are. If he wants to pant like a dog in the grocery store because he loves dogs, then you better pat his head and tell him he is a good boy, because what harm is he really doing? If he will only eat dinner with the blue plate because it is his favourite colour, then give him the blue plate because he is eating and that's what matters. It’s been cold and our daily goal is to get out the door for school, but he won’t wear socks because they bug his toes, well, at least he's going to school and who needs socks anyways? He wants 10 kids when he marries his current girlfriend, but he wants to have the babies in his belly. I’m pretty sure they'll figure out how to compromise on that one!

Each child, Autistic or not, has their own unique views, needs, and desires. The path with Autism may be more difficult than others, but when we try to understand where each one is coming from, then we start to have breakthroughs leading to triumphs. We need to look beyond the problem to find the reasons for the problems, because only then will we have a solution. Walking this path, I have had my eyes opened to the true colours of the world and at times it can seem like a scary and criticising place. There is nothing that needs to be changed about children with Autism. The world just needs to be taught more love, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. My children have taught me such, and I will be sure to share it with the world.