Parenting an Autistic Child

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Welcome to the world of parenting an autistic child.

This world is filled with all the emotions you can imagine.
From the overwhelming terror and sadness of finding out that your child is suffering from a severe, lifelong disability, to the unbelievable joy and pride you are sure to experience when you see your child actually turn as their name is called, or hang up their jacket at school (how well I remember that day), parenting an autistic child is like no other job on earth.

My autistic child LucasI'm the mother of Lucas. Lucas is autistic and mentally retarded. He is also now 23 years old, 6 feet tall, has a great laugh, loves trains and anything that Steven Spielberg has produced.

Parenting this autistic child (and his brother) has, for 23 years, been my number one focus. My husband and I have done without a LOT, have had to sell our much loved, historic home to move somewhere that would provide appropriate services to Lucas, and have worked our tails off to be sure that what Lucas learns in school would be followed up on at home.

I've got to tell you, parenting an autistic child isn't anyone's choice of careers! But life is what it is, and no one ever said that it would be fair. I'll tell you something, though, my perspective has completely changed thanks to this job of mine!

I work full time as a mom, and as a business owner, too. My husband also works full time. But it is this job of parenting our autistic child and his brother that remains the most important, and therefore the main job in both of our lives.

Our faith in God to provide us with what we need has grown tremendously, and He's never let us down as we've kept the needs of our family first.

If you are parenting an autistic child, or you're just someone who wants to find out what it's like to walk a little in our shoes, here are some insights into what it's like...

Parenting an Autistic Child - The Most Important Thing

The single most important thing that you can do for your autistic child is to learn effective ways to help them, to keep working with them and to never lose hope! Here's why:

Parenting an autistic child can be exhausting!Lucas at age 5:

  • Was completely clueless as to the purpose of any and all forms of communication.
  • Did not get sign language, using pictures, spoken words, computer keyboards, nothing.
  • Was extremely self-injurious and hyper-active. His pediatrician rated his hyperactivity level as a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • Constantly ran from us and his teachers, and did not recognize danger. He would run into the street if he could, oblivious to cars.
  • Doctors and "educational experts" told us we would probably need to institutionalize him by the age of 10 years

Lucas by age 16:

  • But the parenting is paying off.Talks. It is with difficulty, and at a 5 year old level, but he can make simple conversation and request things. This ability to make his needs known has taken away most of his self-injurious behaviors.
  • Goes to Church, to the mall, out to eat, and stays with the family or school group with no trouble.
  • Works part time at LucasWorks, assembling products and orders.
  • Is learning empathy for another living thing, now that we've combined autism and a dog.
  • Will be able to live at home as an adult, surrounded by the love of his family, not in a "home" or an institution with strangers.

Of course, these amazing changes did not come easily. We struggled with one thing at a time, and Lucas worked hard every day.

Constant engagement - We also NEVER let Lucas be alone until 8 o'clock at night. We constantly engaged him, commenting to him, playing next to him, helping him, watching television with him while commenting on what we were watching, etc.

I can't say if this would work for everyone, because all kids are different. But we think it helped Lucas to receive this level of attention, both in learning to communicate and in learning social concepts.

Lucas didn't want us to be there bothering him, talking to him (or at him), playing next to him. Like most people with autism, he wanted to be left alone. But we desperately believed that since he had to live in this world, our job was to help him break through to understanding it.

Eventually, Lucas began to look at us when something funny happened on television, to see if we were laughing! That has evolved into sharing comments with us about books, songs, Legos, etc.

Parents are the key - Experts have said time and again that the involvement of the parents is one of the most important things for any child. And no matter how good the program or how dedicated the teachers, the school can only do so much with the time they have.

So we began by reinforcing his school lessons at home (whether it was learning to stay with the group, or to ask for help, or to wait). We visited his classroom regularly, and if Lucas could do something at school (like hang up his coat), then we made him do it at home, too.

We've learned a lot about both autism and parenting. An autistic child needs structure, discipline, and interaction as much as any other child.

There's no question that it takes a child with autism a lot longer to learn almost anything.
But over the past 10 years we've watched the following miracles occur, making our job of parenting an autistic child worth the effort:

  • A decrease in tantrums, and the complete elimination of "head-banging".
  • An increase in communication, which we're convinced is directly related to the decrease in tantrums. He will probably always struggle to communicate, but now he can make his needs known, and has even shared some the insights from the Autism World with us.
  • An improvement in social skills. Lucas is able to wait for a meal in a restaurant, behave himself fairly well for an hour in Church, and he even takes his hat off when entering a building (something many have forgotten how to do!)
  • The development of a sense of humor, from laughing at the antics of his dog to calling us to the television when something silly happens.

It will always be our job as Lucas' parents to reinforce what he is learning, whether at school or at work. We've proven to ourselves that the extra time spent at home with him has made the difference in how far he's come.

We know that all children are different, and that autism differs from child to child. But there's no question that the more help and appropriate intervention a child receives, the better off that child will be.

Some children with autism will go far beyond Lucas, and others may not achieve what Lucas has achieved. But we all owe it to our children to TRY!

Parenting an autistic child is the most difficult and the most rewarding thing you will ever do, and God will smile on you for your efforts!

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