8 Tips That Have Helped Me Become a Better Mom to My Child With Autism
When I recently found myself laughing and having fun with my two children in the family room, I couldn't help but get a little emotional. You see, this isn't the norm for me. I have two boys, one year apart, but my youngest is non-verbal and has autism. Finding common ground for them has never been easy, and for a split second, I had a major parenting win.
It's been two years since we first received my son's autism diagnosis. We've come a long way as a family, but have so much more to learn. I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a few tips that have really saved my sanity. Whether you follow one or all of these hacks, just remember you're not alone. We're all in this together.
Open Up About the Diagnosis
I know it's hard to say the words, but letting others know your child has autism is important. It took me a year to be able to talk about it, and at times, I still struggle with it. However, the truth is vital to help grow your support system. For example, we were traveling to visit my sister and I was panicked about bringing my son on a plane. As we boarded, he started to have a melt down. I knew I had to let the flight crew in on my secret. They didn't even bat an eye, and immediately helped me get him into his seat. They even patched up my arm, which he bit once we were seated. They became our people for the next five hours, and I'm so grateful I spoke up and asked for help.
Create a Backup Plan (and Another One After That)
As parents, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best. When you have a child with autism, you always need to think about what can go wrong. It's important to know the triggers that send your child into a tailspin. For us, it's a sudden lack of WiFi. I'm always ready with a hot spot (thank God for modern technology!) to prevent a melt down. I also travel with an extra bag full of his favorite snacks, cleaning wipes, extra shoes, shirts, and pants. Potty accidents do happen, but he also might find a puddle that has to be jumped in. You just never know. Also, before we go anywhere, my husband and I always make a plan and decide who will leave with him if he becomes overly stimulated. This makes any situation that comes up a bit calmer. Bottom line, you need to be a planner.
Follow a Routine
Kids with autism thrive when they follow a routine. It gives them a sense of security. My family is always better when we stick to a schedule. However, life happens, and sometimes we have to add a family party, sporting event, play date, or trip to the store to our to-do list. It's usually at these times when we'll see a change in my sons behavior. Doing things that are out of his comfort zone are scary. When the risks outweigh the benefits, we stay home.
OK, I know this one is tough and not always possible. When my son is having a tantrum, hitting, or being hysterical about something, I try to stay calm instead of yelling at him to stop. I try to speak to him and say "I hear you" or "I see that you're frustrated." Helping him to communicate his feelings in the moment is important. It doesn't end the tantrum immediately, but he also doesn't get the reaction and attention he was hoping for either. I've found this method helps him get through the whole experience faster.
Avoid Negative Thoughts
As my husband says, "We can't tackle what if." This one I'm still working on. Coming to terms with having a child with autism isn't easy. As a parent, you want to fix everything for your kids and make them happy. However, you can't take autism away. All I know is if you're too busy focusing on the things your child can't do, you might miss the chance to celebrate all the amazing things they can do.
Find Support For Your Family
You do not have to go through this alone. Even if you have no family or friends standing by your side, there is support available. Reach out to autismspeaks.org and sign up for a local event. Make a point to speak with other families and start finding your people. There's a whole tribe of people waiting to have your back.
Make Time For You
In order to be strong and healthy for your child, you need to take care of yourself. Carve in time to run, walk, paint, read, or whatever it is that gives you some release. Autism is a 24/7 job, but I believe I become a better mom after I take an hour for me.
Say "I'm Proud Of You" Every Day
I not only say "I love you" to my kids every day, but I also tell them each night that I'm proud of them. My son with autism works hard every day to learn how to communicate with our family while my oldest son shows him unconditional love and support. They both make me so proud to be their mom.