Tags: In This Issue, Parenting, Special Needs
Parents of Kids with Autism Speak Out
What they want you to know
November 01, 2011It's hard to see autism. The disorder is invisible until symptoms like social awkwardness, stemming, tantrums and the like occur. This invisibility makes it hard for the average person to recognize and even harder to understand. Then consider the fact that autism presents itself differently in every individual who has it. Parents with children who have autism can find the invisibility and individuality of the disorder hard to cope with as they try to raise a happy child. Area parents and autism experts weigh in on what they'd like the general population to know about autism.
We are not bad parents. Mary Rosswurm, mother to a young adult with autism, said, "Some people don't understand. Maybe they think [our child's behavior] is due to bad Parenting or that some of our kids just need discipline. If it were only so simple."
Don't feel sorry for us. Though Rosswurm admits feeling her life was over when she received her son's diagnosis, she now says she wouldn't change her son even if she could. "This is the hand life dealt me and I'm going to do the best for him that I can and hope that people understand that this is my journey. So do not feel sorry for me. This lady is just trying to get through life the best she can," she said.
Making friends is hard. It's hard for kids with autism to initiate relationships, make friends, and maintain those friendships. As children progress into middle school and beyond, relationships grow more and more challenging. Jane Grimes, parent to a 12-year-old daughter with autism, said she hopes for parents to genuinely care that it's a challenge for kids with autism to have friends. "Really have a heart to realize that it is a challenge. For my child to just have one or two really good friends and maintain the friendships, it would probably be as important as education in her quality of life," she said.
Help kids look beyond the autism. Grimes said that for kids with autism to make friends their typically developing peers have to look beyond the disability and try to connect with the child knowing that it's going to be harder than having a friend without autism. Part of this tolerance comes from parents helping to educate their children about autism.
Slow it down. The ebb and flow of conversations in typical settings involve multiple topics that are discussed simultaneously. Grimes said individuals with autism can't keep up. Break down the conversation or take time to explain the conversation to the child with autism so he or she can participate.
Kids with autism are not deaf. Mary Roth, lead ally with the Autism Society of Indiana, said even though it may appear a child with autism is not listening to you, he or she is hearing you. Kids with autism, like their typical peers, are sensitive and smart; they just cannot express their thoughts in conventional ways.
Children learn how to treat people with a disability from their parents. "If you ignore people in wheelchairs or look away from someone with a disability or pretend they don't exist, your kids will too," said Roth. She has seen kids be incredibly tolerant of peers with autism and she has seen kids who are not tolerant. "It's hard to watch. I think children pick up on the messages they get. I ask parents to talk with their kids about the disabilities of kids in their school," she said.
Awareness is important. "I think awareness is the key," said Beth Schweigel, mom to a 10-year-old son with autism. She believes the more autism is in the newspaper, on TV and on the radio, the more general awareness the community at large will have about autism, and the more understanding people will be toward those directly affected by it. To that end, learn more by visiting www.inautism.org.
Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons whose daily antics inspire her work and life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.