Monday, April 30, 2012

Encouragers are needed. Be one!

I have a lot of stories left to share and new ones developing daily so I will not be running out of material soon.  By the way, if you have any questions about autism, our foreign adoption, ADHD, or strategies that help us cope, feel free to ask. If you want to hear more about any particular topic, let me know. 

When I meet a mom or dad who tell me they just received a diagnosis for their child my heart breaks for them. I remember the night I self-diagnosed Tate with autism.  He was two and a half. The hand-flapping had just started and Tate was withdrawing more and more into his own little world.  He still slept with us, as he did not sleep well at night. Erratic sleep patterns are something many people with autism suffer with. That night, as I lay by Tate, he was whispering. It sounded ritualistic and I asked him several times what he was saying. He couldn’t tell me. He had lost much of his language by that time, and he was often speaking gibberish. It was like a foreign language he could understand and he was talking to someone I could not see. When he was finally sleeping, I got up. I was worried sick, literally. I got online. I started typing in some of the symptoms I had seen. I thought I would find that Tate was mentally ill. Instead, I found the same word over and over: autism. When I read the signs of autism, Tate had almost all of them. I woke Shawn and we talked for a long time. He was able to go back to bed, after a while, but I stayed up all night, reading and trying to find answers. What were we going to do? How would I be able to deal with it all?

This was taken right about the time of the diagnosis.
When I meet a mom or dad who tells me they just received a diagnosis for their child, I remember all the things I should NOT say. I should NOT say “I have thought for a long time there was something wrong.” It is like telling someone who is overweight they are fat. They already know it. How would it encourage a devastated parent to tell them that you have suspected for a long time their child was not developing as he/she should? The parent “knew” too but needed to figure it out for themselves and deal with it before making an announcement to the world. Does an “I knew before you did” attitude really need to be voiced? 

I should also NOT say “Everything happens for a reason.” Think about it.  What is that supposed to mean? I have heard it from people after I lost a baby, after Tate was diagnosed with autism, and after other tragedies. Everything does not happen for “a reason.” God doesn’t reach down and zap people with tragedies or illnesses so others can learn from it. Bad things happen to good people every day and it is not God’s work. If a finger should be pointed, then point it at Satan, not God. Everything does not happen for a reason. Babies do not die for “a reason” and little boys do not get autism for “a reason.” We make the best of these bad situations and learn from them but it is not “a reason” for what has happened. See Rule #11 in My 15 Truths of Parenting Special Kids.

When I meet a mom or dad who tells me they just received a diagnosis for their child, I try to encourage them. I tell them of other children I know with autism and the good outcomes I have seen. I do not tell them about the children I know who are not making progress. If someone you know is diagnosed with a health problem, do you tell them of another person you know who has died of the same thing? I have surrounded myself with encouragers. It is so much easier to give Tate and Sydney what they need when I have cheer leaders. If you are not an encourager, practice! I challenge anyone reading to encourage someone you know, this week, who is parenting or teaching a special needs child. Or encourage a handicapped adult. If you don’t know someone, then look around you. A lot of times you will see people with a special need returning carts at a store, wiping tables at a fast food restaurant, pushing a broom, or stocking shelves. I try to speak to those people as often as I can these past few years. Make eye contact, smile and say “hello” because many people treat them like they are invisible. I used to. One of those people may someday be my son or daughter… or your grandchild. Think about it. 

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Note: The morning after I found autism on the internet I got Tate into our pediatrician and he confirmed my fears but was not qualified to give us a diagnosis. The wait to get into a specialist was 3 months. In the meantime, we started early intervention by hiring a behavior consultant and developing a discrete trial program to teach Tate the things he was not learning. I will describe our discrete trial program and what early intervention entails in future posts. I will also describe that visit to the developmental pediatrician to obtain a diagnosis.

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