Thursday, January 5, 2012

Resolutions for the Special Needs Parent

Everyone makes New Year Resolutions.  Some are broken ten minutes after midnight.  Some are kept all year round.  We're on day 5 of the New Year.  But a resolution can happen any day of the year.  I've made a few personal resolutions - save money, lose weight, exercise - though I'm trying to think of them as lifestyle changes.  But I've also made some parental resolutions.  Some are reminders to keep doing what we've been doing.  And a few are things that we still need to work on. They are realistic and absolutely attainable.

Make Peace with Autism: An autism diagnosis isn't the end of your child's life.  I know "your child has autism" are not the words any parent wants to hear.  They certainly weren't the words we wanted to hear.  But we heard them.  And we didn't ignore the diagnosis.  We faced it.  It wasn't easy then and it's not easy now - almost 4 years later.  We went through a "mourning" period - which is natural.  But we learned to make peace with autism.  And once we made peace with it, we were able to move forward.     

Listen: There are so many books on autism. On diet, methodology, advocacy, memoir, self-help.  Books written by parents, educators, doctors and adults (on the spectrum).  But it's impossible to read every single book.  My best resource has always been talking to other parents.  There is always something to learn from the experiences of others.  I especially like talking to parents with children a few years older than The Boy.  So listen to what other parents are saying about autism.  Go to your local support group.  Introduce yourself to a parent at the next PTA meeting or while you're in the waiting room of a doctors/therapists office.  Ask questions.  Twitter & Facebook are also great places to start.         

Teach:  There are so many generalizations and misconceptions about autism.  So many things that people don't know or understand.  In order for people to accept, they need to understand.  Be the teacher in your family, circle of friends and community.  If you read something interesting, pass the information on to a friend, teacher or therapist.  Some of the things that have been of the most value to me, have been passed on by others. 

Take a Time Out:  When you are the parent of a special needs child, it's really easy to lose yourself.  It's easy to to go months, years even, without a haircut or a manicure or massage.  Or a date with your spouse.  Or out shopping with a friend.  It's okay to take time out for yourself.  It's okay to take a few minutes a day, a few hours a week or one day a month to do something just for you - without any guilt.  Do something that will make you feel good, something that has absolutely nothing to do with being a parent or special needs children. (Earlier this week, I took time to give myself a manicure and pedicure, something as silly as painting my nails made me feel better.  Hoping I can keep this up.)               

Be Realistic:  Many believe that autistics (or people with autism, whichever your prefer) want to be left alone, that they don't need or want friends.  This is not always the case.  The Boy may never be the most popular kid (who knows? I could be wrong!) but I know that he does not want complete isolation.  The Boy doesn't do well in large groups but I know when its him and another child, The Boy tries to play.  That is what we focus on.  One on one peer relationships.    

Recognize: Parents - of typical or atypical children - often look to other children as a measure.  And we are all guilty of the "But that kid does it, why can't mine?"  The IEP and evaluation reports makes this especially challenging because it focuses on weaknesses.  I had to learn to recognize all the things that The Boy has achieved.  Even the smallest thing - like coloring within the lines or putting on socks independently.   

Let go:  We all have expectations of what our children are supposed to be.  No one expects a diagnosis of any kind.  And after a diagnosis comes fear, doubt, anger and worry. Let go of all of that.  The diagnosis is out of your control.  How you handle the diagnosis - is not.  So let go and let your child be.  They will surprise you.  The Boy surprises me every day.

What are your resolutions? 

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.