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Wednesday, 6 December 2017

A is for... | 5 things I've learnt raising a child with Autism

It's almost a year since George was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It's been a roller coaster of emotions, with George starting full time school in September being the most emotional of all, but I can certainly say I've learnt a lot from it.

1. Autism is not a disease
Understanding Autism is a road I think I'll be on for a long time. Contrary to somewhat popular belief, Autism is not a disease which can be cured. It's a condition. A difference. It's certainly not something that needs curing. What it needs is understanding. When you google certain conditions, you get a set of causes and 'tick boxes'. Google 'Autism' and you will open a can of worms that will most likely leave you more baffled than before. It's a spectrum disorder, which often presents itself through social challenges and language difficulties. I watched Chris Packham's documentary about living with Asperger's Syndrome and he really put things into perspective for me:
"If there were a cure for Asperger’s, I don’t know if I’d want it. Humanity has prospered because of people with autistic traits. Without them, we wouldn’t have put man on the Moon or be running software programs. If we wiped out all the autistic people on the planet, I don’t know how much longer the human race would last".

That, for me, was the moment I realised George's exceptionally logical brain is a gift and we need to celebrate it, not change it.

2. Stop comparing
As parents, we always compare our children to others. Even from birth. Sitting at baby groups, parents are always discussing which milestones their babies have/haven't met. I was always one of the parents whose child 'wasn't quite there yet', and it used to really bother me. George took his time meeting each and every milestone, even from being very small. But I've learnt that's OK. 

Having an Autistic child in mainstream school has it's difficulties. By the time George started school, I'd learnt to accept the smaller things like watching the other children run out excitedly to their parents, chatting about their days. Bigger things such as George missing out on his first nativity last year because he was literally terrified of the school hall was harder to accept. It really affected me and made me feel like I was missing out on the regular moments. One year on, George happily goes into the hall for dinner, for P.E. and even sits in on assemblies. He still has his struggles, but he's happy. He doesn't care that he's missing out on parties etc. I've learnt to stop comparing him to others. Naturally, I still will, but I'm definitely more aware of it now. He's different, not less.

3. Forward is forward

I found this beautiful quote on Instagram and it sums up life with a child on the spectrum. When you're facing a hurdle, it's often hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I look back over the past couple of years and there's so many things I thought we would never get past. But here we are. We need to celebrate the small steps and stop focusing on speed.

4. Flexibility 
Now this can be applied to all parents, but perhaps more so of ASD parents. Having a child with Autism often means a lot of things don't go to plan. Planned days out may result in stress and tears.  A simple trip to the supermarket may end in a full blown meltdown in the middle of the cereal aisle. The food you put on the table might be point blank refused, you may be on time for school and seconds later be sent into panic. Being flexible allows for these hiccups. It's not the end of the world if certain plans aren't met. Take a deep breath, find a solution and let go of perfection.

5. I don't need to keep apologising
There a lot's of things that George likes to do that stand out and may look 'odd' from the outside, and I often find myself apologising on his behalf. 

When we're out in public and he wanders right in front of someone's path.
When he switches off another person's computer.
When someone asks him a question and he completely ignores them. 
When he excitedly runs back and forth through the automatic doors for the 67th time.
When he gets upset if a stranger speaks to us.
When he wanders over to someone else's table in a restaurant. 

All of these things are frowned upon in society. I often feel I am being judged as a parent for not 'controlling' my child. But when I step back and think about it, it's society that needs to change the way it thinks. He's comfortable being himself. We could all learn a lot from Autism if we learnt to be exactly who we are and not conform to behave the way society says we should. 

He's free, he's happy, he's George.


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