What Autism Parents Wish We Knew

As Autism Acceptance and Awareness Month is upon us, BlueSprig Pediatrics spoke with three of their employees, Alicia, Natalie and Sara who all have kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to find out what they wanted their friends and family members to know about their child with autism.

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These moms created a list of eight key things they wanted their family and friends to know about their child with autism.

Accept our children as they are. The common theme among these three moms is that they wanted their friends and family to accept their children just as they are and to realize that no two children with autism are the same. The reason we refer to it as an autistic spectrum is because everyone is different, and not all children engage in what you might consider ‘classic’ autistic behavior. For example, while many people think children with autism do not like to engage in social interactions, they often want to be social, they just lack the skills needed to do so.

Understand that attempts to connect with others may look different. They may not greet you with a traditional “hello,” but instead instantly start talking to you about a particular topic the two of you have in common. They aren’t being rude; that is just their way of making a meaningful connection with you.

Especially for the older kids, they just want to feel part of this world like everyone else. They want to feel a sense of belonging and be an active part of the conversation, event, or whatever else is happening in the world around them. “My son just wants to be a cool, 24-year-old guy who wants to show off his OU hat, his new shoes or tell you he saw something down the road. He wants to feel a part of the world, the conversation and the event, and not just an accessory to his parents. He’s his own person!” said Alicia.

Our kids know when people are talking about them. Do not assume that children with autism are not aware when others are talking about them. Instead, show them the same courtesy we show everyone else and try to include them in conversation. Speak with them about topics they enjoy or things you may have in common.

As parents, we can get overwhelmed easily. We are often overwhelmed by the medical and school challenges we face daily. Having a child with autism or, for that matter, any other type of special need, can be harrowing. “A challenge that I encountered in the earlier stages was finding the resources and having the support system in place,” said Natalie. Sometimes parents of children with ASD just want a friend we can talk to and a shoulder to lean on for support. It is important to surround us as parents with a support network, so we know we are not alone.

And to add to #5, sometimes our struggles are invisible. “My daughter is happy. She can be patient, sensitive, and understanding. It can seem on the outside that we don’t face challenges. What people don’t see is all the work that goes into the balance, fighting for her needs, helping her navigate the world, struggling to find an environment that will accept her, troubleshooting supports, working through the hard days where we do have to stay home, get called home from work, attending to doctor’s appointments, therapies, evaluations, IEP meetings, and tutors. Sometimes our struggles are visible, and sometimes it seems like we’re doing fine. We need our friends to be compassionate even when things seem like they’re smooth sailing, because there is so much going on under the surface on a daily basis,” said Sara.

We plan for small things. Leaving the house can be an event that requires planning. We think about how many people will be in attendance and if there will be designated sensory friendly spaces available in case of over-stimulation. As a parent it is important to ensure our children have the appropriate resources such as tablets, headphones, chewies, blankets and other sensory activities readily available to regulate more effectively.

We will miss things…but please don’t take it personal. We are aware of how our children process their surroundings, and sometimes we won’t be able to make that birthday party or family function, even when we want to, because we know our child’s limits. Some environments are not the best fit for our children and may cause sensory overload. That’s just part of our reality.

Early intervention.
An early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and treatment are significantly important for the development of a child’s brain in the early years of their life. According to the CDC, the brain will continue to develop and change into adulthood, however the first 8 years of a child’s life can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success. Early detection and treatment can lead to improved behaviors in the short and long-term to help children with ASD regarding various skill areas (e.g., socialization, communication, adaptive skills), health and safety, and quality of life. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms to detect ASD, talk to the right medical specialist to get a diagnosis and know your next steps for the best care and treatment for your child.

At what age can my child receive a diagnosis?
Signs of autism can be shown in children at an early age through multiple signs and symptoms. According to the CDC, autism can be detected as early as 18 months (about one and a half years) of age or younger. A reliable diagnosis can be made by an experienced professional by the age of two. Doctors will conduct a developmental assessment through developmental monitoring, screening, and diagnosis. This developmental assessment will determine if early intervention through applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is needed.

Why is early intervention important?
For children with ASD, early diagnosis and intervention are essential for their development. Learning, behavior, and health are shaped during the first three years of a child’s life. As a child gets older, it becomes more difficult to change these behaviors. A key feature of ABA is that it allows for repeated learning opportunities, so the earlier intervention is started, the more opportunities the child has to practice desired skills and less time they have to engage in undesired behavior. By implementing early intervention therapy services at a young age, children with autism spectrum disorder can improve their developmental pathway.

What treatment is best for autism?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy built around the process of positive behavior change using reinforcement strategies to both increase and decrease targeted behavior while working to improve socialization, communication, learning skills and other developmental milestones. ABA has been shown to minimize the deficits associated with autism and improve the quality of life of individuals with ASD and their families. To learn more, visit bluesprigautism.com.


Education Resource

Sensory Garden Playground
Play for All Sensory Garden and Playground, 2751 Navistar Drive, Lisle. The Sensory Garden and Playground offers accessible playground equipment including a treehouse, gravity rail and net climber that allow children of all abilities to play and learn together. Equipment is specially outfitted with ramps and other accessibility features. Fragrant and tactile gardens provide educational, sensory experiences. Special events are presented every summer. Free admission. For more information, please visit www.playforalldupage.org.

Immaculate Conception Grade School
As an educational ministry of Immaculate Conception Parish, we partner with parents to prepare students for lives as Catholic leaders. As Christians empowered by the Holy Spirit, we focus on formation through prayer, message, concern, and service to the community. We teach students to live lives that embody these values, are centered in Christ, and strive for their greatest academic potential. We invite you to schedule a tour and take a closer look. Pre-K 3 through 8th Grade. Contact: Mrs. Sheila Wachholder, Office Manager at swachholder@icgradeschoolelmhurst.org. Registration for 2023-2024 is Now Open. Address: 132 Arthur Street, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126. 630.530.3490. www.icgradeschoolelmhurst.org

SEASPAR Multi-Sensory Rooms: Two Rooms to Engage the Senses
Two of SEASPAR’s most exciting amenities are its multi-sensory rooms. These rooms offer specially designed interactive equipment that appeals to the auditory, tactile, olfactory, and visual senses. Multi-sensory rooms primarily benefit individuals with autism, sensory processing disorders, and ADHD. Ready to engage your senses? SEASPAR is a special recreation association offering therapeutic recreation programs and services to people with disabilities of all ages. Call SEASPAR at 630.960.7600 or visit SEASPAR.org for more information.

Eye Level Learning Center
Eye Level is based on an educational philosophy in which students learn at their own pace.  Each student receives an individualized program based on their ability, independent of age and grade.  Eye Level English develops students’ essential writing and literacy skills through a comprehensive English Language Arts program. Eye Level Math develops students’ critical and analytical thinking skills through a comprehensive program and small-step approach. We offer virtual and in-center classes.  Contact your local Eye Level Learning Center to schedule a diagnostic test! To learn more, visit Eye Level – Empowered & Ready For Success www.eyelevel.com CHECK URL

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