So, April is autism awareness month. April 2, was autism awareness day. Sometimes I wish it was on April 1 and that it was all just a big joke for April Fool's and that I could wake up the next day and it was gone and my child was speaking and excited about the same things most people are! No such luck. It is what it is. He is how he is. Every day is autism awareness day for us.
What could I possibly share with you for this month? I am still learning so much! So, I thought I would share a few "peace of mind" things about what's helping us help our son.
1. Finding and talking with people who are going through the same thing as us. One of our first therapists was the third of six children. There were three girls and three boys--just like us. The 5th child, one of her brothers, had autism--again, just like us. It was comforting to have her around. My husband's line of work has caused him to cross paths with a very respected colleague, in the same field, who's nine-year-old twin sons, his 3rd and 4th children, both suffered complications at birth that left them with several developmental impairments, in addition to both of them being on the spectrum. His stories of their struggles and triumphs have comforted my husband in ways that nothing else could.
2. Owning and operating a Vita-Mix. No fooling. Many young children are picky eaters. 75% of children with autism are picky eaters. For my son it is a color and texture issue. He likes brownish colored foods on the crunchy side--toast, crackers, some chips, raisins, prunes, peanut butter, almonds. Most veggies and fruits are colorful. His therapies help address texture issues and are helping him become more comfortable touching various textures. (We made peeps playdough at Easter and he HATED touching it, so I only made him do it twice).
I actually was disappointed a few years ago when my husband bought a Vita-Mix. All that money for a stupid blender? I would have rather spent that on a fun weekend away. Maybe it was prophetic though. Who would have thought that we would have the issue we have now. Our little guy was always pretty good about drinking milk (when I used to let him have it), water, and occasional juice. We're not waiting til he's comfortable with colors and textures to vary his diet. Thank you Vita-Mix and all the endless possibilities of smoothies! We have been able to throw in veggies, fruit, and meatless protein sources into his smoothies and as long as they taste relatively sweet and aren't odd-tasting, he drinks them! Hallelujah!
Some of my favorite protein sources to throw in are chia seeds (extra protein and not much taste), hemp powder (excellent protein content, but a very nasty taste--masked well by bananas), walnuts--especially paired with apples and/or pears, hard-cooked, unsalted eggs, and home-cooked beans (with no salt or flavors added). I'll post some of our favorite veggie, fruit, protein combo smoothies some other time.
3. Playing and singing with him. It is important to find what your child gets excited about doing and do it with them. We get a lot of response and interaction with certain songs and action-play. And having five other children who love to play with our son, too, is a tremendous blessing for me!
4. Being onboard with our son's care and being my own advocate. Many people already think of me as anything but timid and quiet, but you would not believe how much I have had to go out of my own comfort zone to speak up for my son who can't speak up. Even to my husband. It is very uncomfortable to have to go to meetings and assessments for our son and to have to hear what he isn't doing yet and what he needs help with. My husband made it to as many as he could but there were a few when work emergencies kept him from attending. And I was a bawling mess afterwards. He's onboard now! Plus, than I don't have to relay information--he can hear it from the horse's mouth just like me.
As far as being my own advocate. #1 above has helped me a lot. People who've done this before know and have a lot of helpful information. Still some days, as I just said to our case manager, "I am TIRED of being my own advocate!" Buck up, me, we're in for the long haul.
5. Making time for us. This is hard for every couple with children. But, it is important for us and we make weekly dates a priority. Thankfully, we have built-in babysitters and that makes it much easier to arrange nights out. My heart goes out to single parents, especially those of special needs children. I believe God required two people to make a baby so that they would stay together and raise and love that baby! I could not do this alone and I am so grateful for my husband and the ability we have to tag team. And there is always respite care too.
6. Trying to stay close to Heavenly Father. Whenever I try to get close to Him, by praying, reading scriptures, going to the temple, attending church, serving others, I always feel more love and strength as a result. He loves me and is very aware of this trial (though that word does not seem encompassing enough), um, how about ordeal? Anyway, He loves me and my precious son, this I cannot deny!
*To participate in autism awareness month, perhaps you could extend yourself more than usual and reach out to that family member, friend, or acquaintance who has a loved one with autism. You probably do not understand the magnitude of what they have in their lives. Autism is a chronic condition. Most children are diagnosed around the age of 3. That's a long life of challenges for both parents, caregivers, and children. For me, it's comforting when people just take the time to get to know me and my family. We are not weird because our son/brother is flapping his crackers and books. He is just doing something different. When I look for what I have in common with my brothers and sisters (aka, the human race!) instead of what's different, I find it much easier to talk with them and appreciate them. Try it and thanks for reading my thoughts!