My son had a speech delay and started speaking at about 3/4 years old after two years of therapy. I prayed a lot but beyond seeking a miracle, I sought clarity, wisdom and strength for the journey. He was diagnosed in, out and around the autism spectrum and each meeting with his therapist and/or assessment team left me confused. Honestly, I never left a meeting happy or confident because there are way too many “maybes” in special needs issues. My experience sensitised me to the plight of parents with autistic children, there are truly superheroes. For World Autism Month, I did some soul searching and thought I would share 5 ways to support a parent of an autistic kid (Ways I would have appreciated):
- Stay in touch with the family, Try and provide the comfort of a listening ear. We are all privy to research and innovations but sometimes set that aside and just provide good company, laughter and fun for the parent on an autistic child. Some folks never checked in on me .Then solutions were a dime a dozen. More painful was everyone had a reason why my son couldn’t speak. From spiritual to physical, it was overwhelming. I am grateful for family and friends who created a happy space for me regardless of the challenge.
- Don’t exclude autistic children and/or their parents from activities and gatherings. Try as much as you can to make activities inclusive. When my son couldn’t speak, the other children would have variety shows and it was a tough time for my older kids and I because we knew my son wanted to but couldn’t participate. However, he had an amazing cousin that would get into the circle with him and make their performance a duet. She would sing and he would smile. Knowing what I know now, maybe some arts and craft activities would be more inclusive.
- I learned to be cautious with my son’s testimony. While it seemed I was encouraging folks, it may have had a contrary effect. It’s all so unpredictable. Yeah, some children make it out of the spectrum and others don’t. So the story of my son’s breakthrough may not necessarily inspire another parent depending on where in the journey they are. However, I sing early intervention to anyone who talks to me about suspected autism.
- When my son was unable to speak, he threw award winning tantrums. Really tight hugs were the fastest way to calm him down. “Soma, you are always carrying this boy”. I wished they would let me be and wish we would let mothers be. Let’s try not to judge parenting methods especially when the child has special needs.
- One of my greatest challenges is managing the fine line between confidentiality and being a proactive friend. Especially in Nigeria, there are many parents who live in denial that their child may have special needs. When they confide in you, what do you do? go ahead and seek solutions? become an autism expert, forward resources or referrals, say a prayer and let it be? Whatever we chose, let’s remember that confidentiality matters.
In summary, let’s try to strengthen and encourage parents of autistic children. Let’s consciously create a space in our world for special needs children. Let support when we can and as often as we can.