If you are the parent of a child with autism, the only thing you will be certain of every day is the uncertainty. “Routine” will just be some word you learned in school. It will mean nothing to you anymore. “As usual” will be your alarm going off on time… But after that nothing will be usual or predictable.
A child with autism can look like any other child. But it’s the behavior that can be baffling, even to caregivers who are used to the child. Autism may not be detected in babies. It is when social interactions start that they begin to display different behavior. They may not show the usual interest in toys or other children and instead be fascinated by curtains moving or light seeping in through the window. They may be reclusive or inappropriately intimate. They may panic or get agitated over seemingly little issues. In short, they live on a different, intriguing plane.
Before knowledge knocked down beliefs, it was thought that children with autism would never grow to be productive citizens who would enjoy careers, marriage, etc. Now armed with the knowledge of the physiology of autism, we are able to guide children onto the progressive, constructive path of adulthood, well adjusted to social niceties and professional productivity. And many children with autism have learned to adjust so well with their unique physiology that we have them quoting that they don’t have a disease, and hence they cannot be “cured.” They prefer to live the best lives they can with their condition—not despite it, but because of it. Their life is made richer by some unique talents and strengths they display.
If you have met a child with autism, don’t assume you have met them all. It is an entire community of people with different attitudes, aptitudes, different levels of learning, and adjustments. Their sensory perceptions may vary. For the same age, they may have different motor reactions to stimuli or situations. Sometimes, you see a docile, amiable child. At other times, the same child may display tantrums and give in to fits of fury for reasons unfathomable to you. At times, she may be sensitive to anything she wears or touches, and at others, show apathy to even pain and discomfort.
Basically, autism is very complex, but it can be broken down into four main domains: unique sensory perception, communication mismatches, abnormal social interaction, and self-esteem and growth issues.
Let us start with the first one: sensory perception. An ordinary tap on the back for us may come as a shocking jolt to a child with autism. She is assaulted from all directions with sensory stimuli, which may play havoc in her brain, confusing and often traumatizing her. So she may react violently or in a manner seemingly inappropriate to the stimulus. Hence, we need to know the “why” of this phenomenon to be able to handle the episodes in the long term.
Communication is also linked to sensory perception in the child with autism. She may not be able to process events in a way that will lead to conveying an appropriate answer or reaction to the people around her. Many a child may not be able to communicate with spoken words, but rather with visual aids like pictures or signs and signals. She may not be able to perceive the importance of communications that are urgent and can take an infuriatingly long time to respond. Often, the responses may be mismatched or inappropriate. For example, laughing at the wrong time and without an obvious reason or for a totally irrelevant reason.
Social interaction may be affected by alteration of perception and communication. The child with autism may feel left out and unable to connect. But this factor also depends on her background. Where she comes from geographically and how aware her community is about her condition and how to deal with it. In countries with larger populations, individual attention to children is unlikely to be paid, and a child with autism may get written off as asocial or stubborn, or retarded.
As for self-esteem, as a child with autism gets older, she may look for the same acceptance from her peer group as other children. She would not want to be treated differently or looked upon as sick or handicapped. So it is very important for society as a whole to be aware of autism and its strengths and weaknesses and accept both as normal or parallel with what is normal.
This is an overview of what to expect from a child with autism and what she would expect from you.
Many a parent goes through different phases of depression, guilt, anger, and helplessness while trying to deal with what they perceive as a sickness in their child. But that is just what it is—perception. In reality, one can live a very positive, albeit a modified lifestyle with their child who has autism. Every stepping stone left behind becomes a milestone as long as you don’t assign a specific age or time to it. Every day can be a conquest worthy of celebration. Every setback can be an opportunity to learn.
Let us know in the comments below if anything else needs to be added
Need help to navigate the nuances of Special Needs Parenting? Every parent needs a helping hand parenting a child with autism and special needs. This book does just that. It helps you with
• Preventive interventions for children with Autism.
• Understanding why your child develops a certain kind of behavior.
• Effective sensory development strategies for children with Special Needs.
• Navigate through the Social and Financial challenges caused by Autism.
• And much more
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