For some reason, tonight as I tried to get to sleep, I kept picturing a parent out there somewhere, a parent who has just been given the official word they have joined our club, that they have a child with autism. And I pictured what I would want to say to them, if I allowed myself to be completely honest. Here goes...
First I want to say to you---nobody in this world knows how your child's life is going to look 5, 10, 20 years from now. That's true for anyone, but from what I've seen, it's especially true for kids with autism. Maybe your child will start talking if they don't talk now. Maybe they will never say a world verbally. Maybe they will learn to read, to write. Maybe they will go to college. Maybe they will never progress academically in any way. Maybe they will have some talent that is incredible. Maybe they won't. The starting point, the point they are at right now, seems to somehow have very little impact on the eventual course of things.
And I honestly don't think that what you do, the therapies you get or the interventions you try or the diets you take on or the model of education you choose will make much of a difference. Certainly many people will say I'm wrong there. But it seems to me that our kids do what they are meant to do when they are meant to do it. How we react to them, what kind of people we surround them with, that matters, but just how we try to teach or train or guide them, the methods we use, the resources we can or can't afford, the diets we chose or don't chose to follow, the methods we embrace, the toys we buy...don't worry too much about them. Worry about surrounding your child with people who love her, who enjoy her, who want the best for her.
Pick your battles. Don't mortgage your future to move to the school district people say you should live in for the "best services". Don't spend every waking moment pursuing a therapy that others have told you must be done in the crucial, special, essential time frame of "no matter how early you started, it wasn't early enough". But DO fight with the medical doctors when you know something is wrong physically with your child. Fight to get them to take that temperature or give that shot or examine that stomach. That is a battle you must fight, one of the few essential ones.
Don't let anyone make you feel guilty for being overwhelmed, for being tired, for being in despair at times. Every single parent in the world has those feelings sometimes, but the big difference is that we simply don't get the breaks other parents do. That is the huge difference. Other kids go to friend's house. Other kids can play sports or join activities or even just get to be 12 or 13 and be able to stay at home alone. Other kids don't need to be watched every second of every day. I don't think, often, it's that our kids are even tougher to parent than "regular" kids It's that the parenting time we put in, over the years, is far more than with regular kids. And when you never, ever get a break, it adds up. You are going to have some very tough days.
Find some friends who get it. Find them online, probably, because although it's much easier to find support groups for parents than any respite ever, you aren't going to necessarily or even probably meet the parents at these groups with kids like your own. Autism takes so many forms. Find someone with a child a lot like yours, and when you do, talk to them all you can. Call each other often. Email. Visit, even if they live far away, if you can. Use my Facebook group if you need a place to ask for a friend. I honestly, truthfully don't know if I would have made it without my compatriot friends.
Give up on trying to reduce screen time, if you have a child who loves to watch the screen. Believe me, I was the parent whose kids were going to play only with wooden blocks, who would live for books and shun TV. But Janey loves videos. I can't picture her life without the movies she loves. They bring her great joy, and frankly, that brings me great joy.
Enjoy the heck out of the many, many parts of being an autism parent that frankly are just plain better than being a regular parent. I enjoy having a daughter who will never, ever be catty or exclusionary to other girls, a daughter who jumps with joy because we are going to take her for a car ride, a daughter who loves vegetables with abandon, who has never once argued with me about clothes or told me I was ruining her life or in fact ever done anything deliberately to hurt anyone, ever. Your reasons will vary, but believe me, there are great parts to being the parent of our kids.
Find ways to enjoy life even on the worst days. Even on the days when Janey literally screamed all day, on the mornings after she didn't sleep all night, even in between changing bedding over and over, or dodging being bit---even on the days I can barely even think about---there was coffee. There were stolen word game moments. There were 15 minute naps after begging my sons to watch their sister when I literally couldn't keep my eyes open. There were ways to live moment to moment to get through days that I didn't think would ever end.
More than anything else, I want to say that although it might seem right now like you've been given the worst news you can imagine---it isn't. There will come a day when you realize that you can't possibly imagine your child being anyone other than who they are. Just like everyone on this earth, they aren't perfect, but they are perfectly themselves.