Today if you see Autism in the media it’s all about “awareness” but I think “acceptance” needs to be talked about more.
What does acceptance mean to me? I accept that my Autistic son learns differently and that’s okay. He may approach a task from a different starting point or perspective but that’s okay too. Does the end goal change because the child is Autistic or should the goal be the same but the journey is different? If the children are asked to all make their favourite animal do I stand back and let him make another fire truck or do I find a way to motivate him to make his own version of his favourite animal. I believe in following Johnny’s lead in play but I don’t want to take it so far that the end goal is unrecognizable. In the end I have to believe that he has a favourite animal that he wants to share with everyone and let him find a way to show his version? Because he’s not atypical then I am not surprised that it’s different from what many of the other children are doing but that’s okay. The thing is I have found that once my Autistic child was in the education system there are certain expectations that they have for him them that he knows and understands the material. I can advocate for him to be taught in the way he learns best but he still has to reach target goals. This is where accommodations come in and modifications.
Do I compare him with other children? Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to when your Autistic child is in an inclusive environment. You wonder how your child is doing when he is away from you and is amongst his peers. But as another mom said to me the other day is all parents compare their children to each other even as early as when they are just babies as each child reaches milestones. Is my child walking yet? Why isn’t my son crawling yet? Wow your son talks a lot already! It really is not fair to the children but nervous parents especially first time parents are figuring it out as they go along just like generations before them. Now I wonder if the other children are being nice to him. Are they being helpful and understanding? Does he feel accepted and part of the class? We are very lucky this year that he is with a wonderful group of children. A few children who have been with him since kindergarten have taken him under their wings and they look out for him. We hope this continues every year so Johnny continues to have positive experiences at school.
Do I let Johnny do everything he wants to or do I let him avoid doing something? His Daddy and I try to make sure he knows what the expectations are first and then see what he is trying to do instead or find out why he doesn’t want to do something. We don’t think we are doing him a service by letting him completely follow his own lead. Its helped a lot that he is speaking because he can tell us what he is doing instead and we can talk back and forth about a project now. We follow his interests then subtly introduce something different to see if this catches his curious mind. We try to never force something but instead see if he will step out of his comfort zone on his own and try something different. We strive to presume competence and always try to challenge him without frustrating him. We assume that he is capable of doing anything that any other child does but it’s up to his Dad and I to help him identify the best way for him to get to the goal. If he’s not learning then it’s up to the teachers to find another way. As parents with all the therapy and programs that we have had Johnny in, we never have the goal of “fixing him” or trying to make him into a “normal child.” Autism is part of him and will always be but we are trying to help him learn to express himself and be who he is when its not always so easy for him to do that.
I think the reality is that I think my son knows he’s different but the trick is to help him realize that different is not less….in many ways it’s more. His Dad and I firmly believe that if we build his confidence up enough he will take risks and be okay with being himself amongst his peers and make mistakes in front of his peers just as they do with each other. Johnny understands everything and has told me he wants to be with all the other kids. He asks me a few times during the week “I’m in Grade 1 right Mommy” probably because he does shift to the Autism Classroom for an hour or 2 a day to work on social skills. His Dad and I feel that it’s up to us to help him do that and navigate that social sphere. In a perfect world we would love it if the other children were taught how to accommodate Johnny but right now we are happy that he is in a class where most of the children are accepting and helpful. Right now at school Johnny feels accepted and is happy and that is all that matters.