Several years ago, I had the chance to have a very highly-touted “Autism Expert” meet my children. I’m the proud mother of quadruplets: one girl and three boys, two of whom are identical.
They were about 3 years old at the time of the meeting with the “Expert”. The identical twin boys, who are autistic, were happily walking back and forth the length of a brick wall, their faces about 6 inches from the stripes made by the mud separating each layer. This was a common behavior for them, but not one that I found to be too disruptive, so I would let them continue for short periods of time.
It was at this time that I met the man who would give me an unintentional piece of advice that has yet to be topped in my theoretical “Advice For Autism” book.
This man took one look at my boys (who were intently eyeing the stripe in the brick) and said “Oh, they’re definitely Autistic.”
Well, that wasn’t exactly earth shattering news to me. I had known since about 6 months of age that they were showing signs of Autism.
What I really wanted to know was the severity of the autism. (I’ve since learned that it can be pretty darn hard to predict such a thing, especially when your subjects are so young, but desperation drove my actions.) In an attempt to get any answers I could about our future, I asked the expert in front of me what he thought. ”How bad do you think they are? Will they ever be normal?” (Don’t you just hate the word normal?)
The response was blunt. ”Oh, they will NEVER be normal, they will just learn to adjust with what they have.”
Taken back by the severity of his comment, I did the only thing I could and made my reply just as arrogant. ”Isn’t that what we all do?” I said, trying to hide my disdain for what I saw as a personal attack on my sweet little boys. Apparently my response caught him a little off guard because I received an aggravated “Humph…well it just isn’t the same” and that was the end of the conversation.
In the years since, I have made “Adjust With What You Have” my mantra. Here’s some of the ‘adjustments’ we’ve made:
- Noise too loud? I have noise reducing headphones for that! Works great for movies, thunder storms, and power tools. Once the boys have adjusted to louder noises, they need these less and less. We all like them for movies though, since theaters seem to blast the sound at a level my deaf family members could hear!
- Can’t stand the feel of paper? Use a whiteboard instead. Continue to introduce paper, but allow work to be done on the whiteboard to alleviate the anxiety when necessary.
- Poor handwriting due to fine motor issues? Typing can be a lot less frustrating for a perfectionist who can’t seem to make his letters look the way he wants. Use other means to improve fine motor skills (Lego’s are a great tool) and then try handwriting later.
- Child doesn’t want to eat a variety of foods? Try thinking about nutrition and vitamin consumption not as a daily task, but look at the broader picture (weekly or even monthly.) Sometimes, my boys only want waffles or pizza for days on end. So, we make enough for leftovers and let them eat to their heart’s content. I also try to mix in calories as I can by using high calorie alternatives when cooking. Using canned instead of whole milk and butter instead of margarine or spreads can add a few calories here and there. As they have aged, my boys are more likely to try new things.
That is a few of the things that we do. Our day to day lives are challenging (and sometimes downright frustrating) but I must say, we are always “adjusting with what we have!”
How do you adjust with what you have?
Using Your Child’s Strengths Can Lead To Success In Life
Children diagnosed with Autism have many gifts that can be shaped to support them into adulthood. For some Autistic Children, these gifts are easy to see. For others, the gifts are harder to find. Working with young children and even teenagers is a prime time to begin to think about what are the children fascinated with. What do they excel at?
As a parent, you will want to keep an open mind about this so that you don’t miss an opportunity to encourage skills your child can use into adulthood. In this video, Zachary, who is a 5 years old boy, recently completed preschool. He was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2 and was non-verbal until age 3. He started receiving INTENSE early intervention services starting at 16 months old, along with attending an integrated preschool in Upstate NY.
Soon after he turned 4 years old, his family found a wonderful piano teacher/ music therapist who was willing to work with him. The gift of his musicality has emerged since his first public appearance in 2008, and appears to be a counterbalance to his perceived weaker areas. As a result of tapping into his strengths, Zachary enrolled into kindergarten and has begun to blossom.
Every child can go through a similar journey to different degrees. Some children with have strong success that will balance their difficulties while others will have success in smaller areas. The focus as a parent should be how can you help your child use their skills and sustain their success while encouraging the small successes they have in the moment.