If you have an autistic child, what needs to change?
Is it them, is it things around them or is it actually you?
Hopefully we can all rule out the first one. An autistic child is perfect as they are – they don’t need to change.
However, the focus can easily fall on the second option. I know mine did.
You have a child who you know will have their struggles through life, many of these because of the environments they will find themselves in. It feels natural therefore to try to influence these environments.
With hindsight, I can see that this was largely my approach from the moment I first came to realise our first son was autistic.
This is what dads do isn’t it, they look to solve things – but it is rarely themselves they look to solve.
It started with learning all about autism – right down to theoretical stuff of no practical benefit – and carried on through researching stuff I was never going to act on. I discovered a town that appeared to be the most autism-friendly in the UK – not of much use when my wife and I had jobs 400 miles from the location in question.
The five podcasts, three newsletters, curated Twitter list, endless heavy book and saved list of articles can all be categorised as being of little use – use to me that is. Some people need to know the genetic causes of autism, but if you’re the parent of a kid with autism I would suggest it makes little difference. You have a child you need to play or bond with, knowing what causes their difference isn’t going to aid that process.
The changes that have helped have all been internal and I’m not sure whether or not they would have happened but for our children, both of whom are autistic.
Instead of me helping them, they have improved me – though I like to think there’s at least a bit of both.
By simply being present with a child with additional needs, you will become more understanding.
You will be calmer and more stoical, emotionally level and consistent, but not repressed.
What once seemed to matter a lot will matter less, what mattered little will grow in importance. My views of success and progress have changed.
My upbringing placed importance on academic success, now I see that following personal interests is more important and that it is completely arbitrary to focus on a narrow curriculum. I see it is better to pursue one thing with passion than multiple things with little real enthusiasm.
The parent of the child with additional needs will come to know that what others think rarely matters, especially when it is the negative of passing judgement. You learn to focus on what matters and become oblivious to what doesn’t.
You learn that happiness isn’t in the future with a holiday, or some form of success, or something out the ordinary. It is in this very moment – right now is as important as any point in the past or future.
This development, at least in my experience, starts the moment you realise that the most important thing to change is yourself.
It is obvious that when we better, those around us are better we allow them to flourish.
The gift of my children is that they have put me on this journey – but for them it may have never happened.
They need to develop at their own pace as they grow up, as all children do, but there’s not a single thing about them that needs to change.