Having an autistic child is not the end of the world--far from it. It is my hope that through this blog, at least a handful of people will get to understand that. My child is amazing, she brings us tremendous joy. We have good days & bad days, but we CHOOSE to focus on the good. Our belief is that by loving our daughter, giving her the most comfortable environment we can, and by most of all accepting her differences, she will continue to blossom--in her OWN way.

11/6/07

Bending A Little...Gaining A Lot

I've learned a lot in this life. The most important lessons I've learned come from my children. I've come to realize that being a parent is, by far, the hardest job in the world. I've learned that hearing your child cry in pain can literally break your heart. I know now that much of what you read in parenting books and magazines won't always mesh with your life or your child. It's not the end of the world if your child is not potty-trained by a certain age. The supposed "experts" do not have all the answers. The biggest thing I've learned, is that sometimes, you have to bend a little.

We've had to alter our preconceived notions, the ideas we had about much of life. We've realized that hearing the words "Mommy" or "I love you" are not the most important thing in life. Seeing your child sign those words, or point to a picture card to express those sentiments, is simply beautiful. I've literally had to remind myself early on that my child is not rejecting me or disconnected from me because she doesn't want to hold her mother's hand, or give a hug, or play pat-a-cake. As an infant, my daughter would just stare off toward the windows, or just off into an abyss. To be honest, there were times it did hurt me. I felt I must be doing something wrong. How could my baby not laugh at me doing a silly dance? Why won't she react to me playing peek-a-boo? What does it mean when your baby never stares longingly in her mother's eyes?

We had wonderful doctors, and so our education and understanding into developmental disabilities began at our daughter's 6 month well-baby visit. We knew very early that our daughter had delays. I knew instinctively that my child was different, before any professional told us. I would read notes from doctor's appointments, see test results, and go over her diagnoses. I understood them. But, when you are a mom, and especially when you've had those early bonding experiences with another child, the day to day things affect you. All those 'missed' moments can bring you down.

For some time, I had to constantly tell myself that this was not a personal insult. I was not a bad mom. My child was not a bad egg. I just had to try more, try better, try differently. My daughter liked fans, I bought a small toy fan. My daughter liked lights, I bought toys that lit up and spun. She then liked what I had. Little by little, I learned what steps to take to get involved with my child. I never expected her to just "snap out of it" and be like her sister. I knew I had to approach this entire experience, raising our youngest, in a whole new light.

Those early lessons and realizations have continued. They change, and as my daughter gets older, I know they will continue to do so. But it's still about meeting my daughter somewhere in the middle. Not trying to alter her or force her into something that would make her uncomfortable. No, it's about finding what works for her, and trying new things. I still feel at times, that my parenting "bag of tricks" that I had for my older daughter just doesn't work with her sister.

When you learn to throw out the ideas you may have previously had, your life will get better. When you start to bend a little, the gains just may be huge. My daughter usually does not enjoy being kissed. Sometimes, she may give you a real kiss. But, often, she'd prefer neither. So, we've come up with alternatives. Of course, high-fives and thumbs-up are big ways for us to "kiss" in our own way. Lately, she'll enjoy our lips brushing her cheeks. A new "kiss" is simply pressing (unpuckered) your lips against her head. This works. It's great. It's a kiss. It's a unique kiss, and it's wonderful.

We have never made our child look us in the eyes. When she talks, we try to have her toward us, simply so we can hear. We do this by asking her "can you turn to me?" just as I would her sister. We often crunch down to her level, so we can hear her. I will never forcefully pull her chin up or demand she look me in the eyes. I do not think she would ever speak, if we treated her in this manner. We don't force her to wear very fancy clothes, lace and frills drive her crazy. Most outfits are soft cotton, nice & comfy.

We don't scold her for stimming, rolling around, jumping, or screeching. We have found ways for her to ease her sensory system and ways to work out some extra energy. We encourage her to use a sit & spin, her spinning chair, slide, trampoline, bouncy ball, etc. We have sensory toys, beanbag chairs, a tent, all sorts of things around the house. To us, there is no other way. I can't imagine anything other than accepting my child, and giving her a loving, caring, & fun environment that suits her needs. I'm not being a super-mom, I'm not a saint, I'm not doing anything above and beyond the call of duty (in this case, being a parent). I'm being a mom, I'm loving my child. It's simple.

I wish, above all, that other parents will see that this is Autism everyday. And it is a beautiful...

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