I would have to say that the biggest research project I have worked on is learning to raise Andrew, my four-year-old son, who was diagnosed with autism more than a year ago. Every day offers new challenges, since he literally can wake up as a different kid each morning. Certainly, I would love to know how his demeanor and attitude will be, but it’s a bit of a guessing game until his morning routine begins to unfold. In this journey, I have learned the importance of routine. Kids on the autism spectrum thrive on routine and predictability. If a daily routine, such as lunch or bath-time, is not in the order they expect, I can expect a meltdown, tantrum or just a child in a bad mood. Diet is also important for a child on the spectrum. My son has always has been a picky eater, preferring only junk food (french fries, chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers), but once he was diagnosed, I read about the importance of going gluten free. “Boy, this is going to a nightmare,” I thought. Well, to my surprise, the transition was not bad. Finding healthy, gluten free foods that he was willing to eat was not as difficult as I anticipated. The only hardship with the diet has been the cost. Gluten free foods are totally expensive. Ultimately, though, it has been a great experience; I have seen a positive change in his mood overall, and he seems to sleep much better.
During all my research on Autism, I have seen many different opinions and points of view on the subject, and it’s been a challenge to form my own confident opinions. As a mother, I frequently feel desperate and want an answer to how this could happen… how was it that my once seemingly normal little boy was robbed from me? At least I felt that way in the beginning, and sometimes still do during hard times. There are clinical protocols, vitamins therapies, etc., you name it and we tried. I was praying that one of these things would bring the little boy I once knew back to me, but much of it was a waste of money. After many tears and frustrations, I eventually came to accept and love that he is still my Andrew, just now with new twerks, giggles and smiles. I think this journey also shows the genuine, unconditional strength that we as parents with kids on the spectrum will go through for our children. I would walk to the ends of the earth for my son’s happiness, well-being and safety.
Lastly, I can say that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been an immense help for my son. ABA is a form of therapy that trains autistic kids to improve their verbal and non-verbal communication, and reduces defiant and repetitive behaviors, which ultimately makes the child’s and their family’s lives much easier. Being a parent of a child on the spectrum has been a mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting challenge. We may never fully understand the cause and physiology of autism, but I feel that this has been a continuous learning experience that will continue as he grows older.