When my son was three-years-old, he received his autism diagnosis. Anyone who has gone through this diagnosis knows that it comes with a rush of different emotions. At first you mourn the kid you thought you had, but then you remember that you’re walking out of the doctor’s office with the same kid you walked in with.
I remember asking the team that diagnosed him a whole host of questions, the most pressing being - Would he ever be able to live independently? Heck, with six kids, I do love children; but I certainly want them to all be GONE one day. I’m good with a bit of empty nest syndrome! I also had a lot of questions about his social future – Would he have friends? Would he have romantic relationships? The team told me they had no crystal ball, but that generally those kinds of relationships are difficult for people with autism.
He's now 18-years-old, and you’ll have to excuse me while I brag for a moment. He just got accepted to all of his top University picks for next year (without any schools knowing his diagnosis). He's a kind and loving big brother to his five younger siblings. He has a job as a Lifeguard that he drives himself to (because he also has his driver’s license). He has loyal friends whom he socializes with regularly. He's a valued member of his hockey team. His musical talents land him lead roles in school and community plays. He is currently planning a trip to Kenya for the month of July to help struggling communities.
So, what did we do right? Reflecting back, I can think of a few things that contributed to his development and success:
- Early Intervention – If you suspect something is going on developmentally with your kid, don’t wait around for a diagnosis. Get to work. The sooner the better. You don’t need to have a diagnosis to get help for your child.
- Prioritizing Therapy – Therapy is not cheap, but while you sit on waiting lists, do whatever you can to pay for it privately. There is no time to waste. If someone offers you money, take it. If you need to remortgage your house, do it. If you have to skip vacations, skip them. Your child is your very best investment.
- Have a Team – make sure your whole extended family understands what skills you are targeting with your child. Teach them how to work with your child and give them required reading. Invite them to team meetings and update them constantly. The more people that are in your child’s life who understand your goals, the more success you will have.
Many years ago, one of my son’s teachers told me that the school principal had confided in her, saying “Mack’s mother seems to think that he's going to end up being as successful as any neuro-typical child, and the more time that passes, the more I think she might be right.”
Right I was. Congrats, my boy – no one has worked harder than you have.