I've been that mom. The one whose child should have been talking and wasn't. The child who fell apart and threw such huge tantrums – kicking and screaming so that it seemed like the preschool was experiencing its own earthquake. I was that mom who had to hear from a stranger that her two-and-a-half-year-old son had autism. I wanted to scream due to the wrongness of the situation. I have good news if you find yourself in these shoes: It will get better.
Early intervention is important
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, early intervention improves the symptoms of autism. I remember thinking back to when my son was three years old. He could only say about twenty words. If you asked him a question, he would answer it with a random word. You could say, "what do you like to eat?" and he would answer: "red". It seemed impossible that he would ever learn to speak in coherent sentences. However, with the help of a special education program from our local regional center, he rapidly gained those skills
You are not alone
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. When I heard these numbers, I balked. That number didn’t mean a lot to me until I started thinking about it on a larger scale. That means that out of every 100 children, 1.4% have autism or in a small city, 280 children out of 20,000. If you reach out-- you will find groups on Facebook sharing the same experience. You can also contact Autism Speaks for support groups.
Consistency and stability will help
A new study published in July 2015 by the Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that if autistic people are treated early in a very predictable environment, symptoms could lessen. One of the reasons that we felt like our son did so well in his therapy was that we treated him the same as his neurotypical sister. Social events were a consistent part of our lives so we made them a consistent part of his life too. Sometimes this was very hard as my son was deathly afraid of crowds and would grab my leg and cry, but we just kept at it. Eventually, he became so desensitized crowds didn't bother him anymore.
The severity of autism can change
According to new research from Pediatrics, ten percent of children improve dramatically by age eight. Sometimes the psychologists and doctors will say that the severity of autism appears worse than it really is because a lot is unknown when the child is diagnosed that young. When my son was two, the doctors told us that he had moderate, classic autism. When I asked them if my son would ever be able to answer questions correctly, they said that they had no idea. However, once my son turned four-years-old he would not stop talking and he now loves to answer any questions.
Sometimes the doctors are wrong
My son definitely had big, red autism flags but when we had him re-tested at six-years-old, he wasn't even close to being on the spectrum. Doctors sometimes don't know if this is recovery from autism, misdiagnosis or just that the brain has learned to work around the disorder. However, according to the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, an estimated 3 to 25% of children move off of the autism spectrum.I am that mom who can tell you that the best thing you can do for your child is to support them with consistent routines, early intervention, and therapy. I saw a huge change in my son within a month of starting intense behavioral therapy six hours per day, five days per week. The earthquakes for us are just memories now.
I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that’s the only resolution I care to make. For both my own health, and as an important example to my kids, this year, I'm resolving to practice a kindness that starts from within.