Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Parenting Autism

There has been a lot of talk about what Michael Savage said about autistic children. I didn’t hear the piece live and so I won’t judge the piece. ESPN did a follow-up on "J-Mac" the boy who played in the final basketball game of his senior year and scored 20 or so points in the last couple of minutes. "J-Mac" is now a speaker and touring the country to tout what autistic children can do. As a parent of an autistic child I thought I would share what some of the challenges and opportunities are.

Our oldest son is high-functioning autistic. We first noticed certain characteristics that didn’t fit in with the other children his age. The biggest clue was the quick mood swing from happy to angry. He would go into a rage over simple things. So we began to see what things set him off. We soon found it was things like a change in schedule or moving something that he had placed in a specific spot.

This is where the battle began. We searched for help and luckily my job allowed us to see specialists. The first one, I’m sad to report, didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong outside of behavior issues that could be handled by good parenting. However, we stayed true to the course and moved on to a second specialist. This one opened our eyes to our son’s behavior that showed he has autism. He showed us for instance that our son didn’t play with toys except to line them up. Lining up toys is a classic symptom of Autism. Needless to say we were depressed. Our son, our first child has an affliction that we can’t cure in a short period of time and maybe not at all.

The diagnosis however allowed us to get him help. We now have workers helping him every day. It’s still a lot of work as a parent though. He still has moments of rage and needs help calming down. He also has other behavior issues that we deal with. The one thing I have to say is that it is worth it. It’s definitely not easy, but when he tells us we are the best parents in the world or says that he loves us we know it’s working.

Our son is mainstreamed. This means that he goes to school with other kids his age just like everyone else. There are things he needs help with (reading and math for instance). This year however we are sending him to a new school that will not pull him out for that help. We are so looking forward to this year to see him progress.

Autism is a real affliction. We are lucky that our son is high-functioning. There are others who are not. Each of us as parents of Autistic children has challenges and opportunities. Again, it’s not easy, but it is so worth it.


N&E5 said...

I was pleasantly surprised to hear your story. My eldest has Aspergers. It was a difficult pill for us to swallow as parents. Especially when they are high functioning, people do not see his limitations and assume it is because, as Savage would say, a "brat." Objectively speaking, Savage would be correct. However, autism is so disturbing because it is what you don't see that is so hard to 'fix.'

I wonder if Mr. Savage hasn't thought of the fact that many parents of autistic children DID think their kids behavior was off. DID try to do "traditional" parenting. Yet, it made no difference. Suddenly when you either accept or learn about autism, it becomes clearer. Magically they start doing better.

I find it sad that the right wingers have adopted the autism 'issue' as their "bash a cause" de jure. Perhaps anything where people are attempting to highlight in the public becomes fodder for them.

Go ask Joe Scarborough, a self-professed conservative, about autism. His son also has Aspergers.

I would echo the post here and say it is incumbent upon all parents to get their children test whom they suspect may have autism. Early intervention is paramount.

I've never been a cause person myself; but when you see into the eyes of a child, things change.

shayna said...

Thanks for the heartfelt post. How old is your son? I am lucky that I have not experienced any autism spectrum disorders in my family, but I worked at an autism clinic as a behavioral therapist and researcher for over a year. Those kids are incredible, inspiringly unique, and also sometimes very challenging to work with. In all of it though, it is the parents who are the most amazing I think and I am so glad that you were able to fight for your son to get him the appropriate type of help for his particular hardships.

It is sad that the conservative media does not understand autism and acts as a negative force rather than supporting the cause. We fought this as clinicians and I can imagine it is even more difficult to face as a parent.

CelticBuffy said...

I love to hear stories of how children with Autism are succeeding. I have worked with one boy with higher functioning autism for the past five years and ran into his father the other day. I asked about the son, saying every time I see a commercial for the son's favorite TV show I think of him. The dad proceeded to tell me how the son (age 12) has been using PowerPoint at home to make presentations in regards to his favorite show and how in awe the parents are that he has learned this. It came about through inclusion in the classroom and intuitive teachers who took the son's interests and used it to teach him skills that some people never thought he'd need. I can't wait to hear what incredible things this boy will do in the future. I can't wait to hear what awesome things your son will learn and do! A great team that works together both at school and at home can make all of the difference in a child's life.

N&E5 said...

I would just like to re-emphasize to others that high-functioning autism is a blessing and a curse. I don't mean blessing in the sense that I am glad my son has Asperger's, rather it could have been a more severe form of autism. But because he is able to function rather well, when he does act differently, he's assumed to be 'strange, weird, or a baby.' Again, if I were a 10 year old, I would have probably said the same things.

This is where education must come in. We need to inform the Savages of the world (he's a lost cause I am afraid) that there is something going on in the world due to the prevalence of ASD. The etiology of this is probably left to another day and another post, but suffice it to say they are real.

BJ Blinston said...

Education is key to any affliction. Unfortunately the education that is most needed is the one where people don't judge a situation without knowing the facts. This is the hardest part and I believe Glenn Beck said it best last night when he said "When you don't have kids you look at the parent of the child screaming on the floor of the grocery store and say 'What are you doing?'" and then he said "When you are the parent of that child you say 'I don't know what I can do right now'"

Cheryl said...

n&e5, BJ's wife here, thanks for your comments. I agree that high-functioning is a blessing and a curse. We are so blessed that he can communicate with us and go to school, but we also are faced with others thinking he is "weird."

I have had people at the store tell me that he just needs a good spanking. They stare at him and give me the look of "why can't you parent that child." Needless to say, I don't take him to the store often because that usually precipitates a meltdown.

I try to educate as much as I can, but the middle of a meltdown is not the time to do it. We have lost friends because of our son's behavior, we have had to fight the school to get help because he is so high functioning and it took us a year to get him services from the state as well.

There are times I wish I were just a horrible parent because that is fixable. Believe me, we tried improving our parenting skills for 6 months (lots of counseling and classes) but when the improvement in behavior was small (compared to how his siblings behavior changed) we knew it was more.

I appreciate everyone who works with these unique and awesome children. Thanks for helping them develop who they are.d