Three Years Later
Happy Autism Acceptance Day!
This is a day to reflect on what autism means to us, and what we would like the world to know about people who have autism.
I see autism as just another facet of human nature. We are still parenting children who have many things to learn. Some things are more difficult, but some are more easy.
I am mostly thankful for the people who have helped us along the way, to understand the differences and give us tools to teach our children. We’ve had three years of involvement in developmental therapies. They have been three years of growth. We’ve grown as parents, in our understanding of how to support and learn together with our kids. And our kids have grown too.
Approaches to learning like DIR and RDI frame learning in a way that engages the child and takes their feelings, needs, and interests into account. They are full participants and decision makers…which just makes sense. It’s their learning! It needs to be of value and make sense to them.
The supports we have chosen have led us to look at learning through these lenses:
Communicating is about way more than words. It starts with simple connection and feelings of love and connectedness, and builds into a desire to share ideas. So we started with nonverbal interactions like peek-a-boo and tickle and found that in time, the things we talk about become more and more complex. For example, we’ve moved from repeating ideas from The Snowy Day (“splat! went the snow, down on Peter’s head”) to discussing how ice, snow and water are all connected.
Being able to do things for ourselves and for others is one of the most important life skills. Recently we’ve noticed our daughter is going right ahead and trying new skills…last month we discovered a pile of strawberry tops on the kitchen counter and a happy girl munching at the table, with a big grin on her face. She was even willing to share. The next day she wanted to expand on the project and make fruit salad.
The ability to collaborate and work on projects together is also a welcome development. It used to be that our kids would whiz away to hide somewhere else if we tried to do something together, but now we actually have more invitations to join them than we have time to accommodate. This week, shooting a rocket in the back yard, baking cookies, building a Lego house, and puzzles were all more fun when done together.
We hear lots of stories about people with autism needing to do things the same way. We do have a bit of that. But we’ve done our best to stretch our children’s thinking in this way. We introduce them to new activities (while planning supports to make them manageable), we model problem solving when things go differently than we expect, and we look for ways to vary routines, just a little bit each time. This also has paid off. We can now go pretty much anywhere we want to – for example, crowds were not an obstacle at the New Years fireworks. Our daughter really likes “field trips.” They are adventures!
My hope for Autism Acceptance Day is simply that more of us will recognize that growth is a very individual thing, happening in different pathways and speeds for every person or family. Our journey is unique; the easy parts and the hard parts are different for everyone. Part of acceptance means supporting growth as it is needed, in small ways or big, through conversations or encouragement or time spent together. In essence, it’s really not any different than it would be for any child.
But it starts with understanding and support.
What are you doing today to help someone understand?