In the past several weeks I’ve been talking to parents of young autistic kids, and it has brought back memories of many of the struggles and triumphs I had with both my children back in the day. There were some dark years back then, and some resounding triumphs too. I remember having an overwhelming sense of urgency to “get it right,” that a certain diet or classroom or instructional methodology would make the difference between whether or not he ever ate a vegetable, spoke, or lived an independent life.
I can tell you now with complete honesty that except for the vegetables, none of those things came to or will ever come to pass.
The truth is despite excellent teachers, therapists, and a teacher mom who worked non-stop with him for almost two years before he went to school because Early Intervention in Virginia for autistic kids was a joke, he will never achieve the latter two goals. I can’t say I’m at peace with this. I will particularly never be reconciled with his lack of future independence due to the safety issues, but I will say I have accepted it.
Talking with parents about their young kids and their hopes and dreams for them often makes me take a look at the choices my husband and I made with both boys. There are definitely some things I would do differently.
But there is one thing I would not. And that is knowing when to let go.
Perhaps there are parents out there able to look at their toddlers and be at peace with the fact they’ll never have functional language, but I was not one of those parents. I read everything out there, and at the time a few studies showed that sign language seemed to encourage more verbal speech than other methods of communication. When we finally moved to New Jersey and had excellent Early Intervention services I remember being so adamant that the team sign with him for this reason. I did not take into account his lack of imitation skills, or his fine motor issues. We went on in this vein for months, with little or no progress.
And finally a member of the team pointed these deficits out to me, recommended the PECS system which could eventually lead to an iPad for communicating, and let me think about it.
Although it felt a little bit like I was giving up on speech, I had to look at the big picture- that my son needed a method of communicating or he would be deeply frustrated his entire life. Just because he was bright and I wanted him to talk didn’t mean he ever would. I had to do what was best for him with the skills he had.
Eventually he moved onto the iPad and Proloquo2go, and can communicate his needs beautifully. He had some words before he developed tic disorder, but they are mostly gone now. Thankfully due to his ability to read and type simple words he still has a means to tell the world what he wants.
If I had never listened to that therapist there might have been a different story.
Keeping the big picture in mind is crucial when you’re making the huge, and sometimes small, decisions about your child’s life. When Justin was younger we really wanted him in a public school setting where he’d have opportunities to engage with neurotypical peers. It eventually became obvious that the public school system would not be able to meet his needs, and his father and I had to consider private autism schools where there’d probably be no chance of immersion in the neurotypical world. We made the choice to move him, and it was without question the best decision we’ve ever made for him.
But once again I had to let a dream go and look at what would be best for him in the longterm, and I’m so glad I did.
Through many bumps in the road Justin is thriving now. I know this is in part to his father and I always keeping the big picture in mind when choices are presented to us. It’s so important to look at the skills your child has as well as the deficits and try to match those skills with a particular school program or a method of therapy. Keeping an open mind is key, and remembering it’s about where they’ll best succeed, not how you want them to succeed.
And as adulthood approaches I will try to take my own advice to heart.
For more on my family visit my blog at autismmommytherapist.wordpress.com
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