Diversity brings opportunities for many people of different cultures to share in community. But, diversity also brings challenges for those who may not be familiar with others’ seemingly unusual mannerisms. This can be particularly true for those with different abilities, such as those with a diagnosis of Autism.
As parents, we can look at these challenges as opportunities for teaching and growth.
Recently at a community outing, a little girl asked me to help her get a drink, and while I gladly did so, I was initially at a loss for words at her next series of questions. Looking at my son, who was about the same size and likely the same age as she, she paused and asked, “Why does he act like that?” She was referring to his hand gestures coupled with vocalizations that our family could interpret, but likely sounded like mere babbling to her. When I replied that he has a diagnosed of Autism, she looked thoughtfully at me at asked, “Are you okay with that?”
How do you respond to strangers when they ask about the behaviors that your child displays, especially if they tend to stray from the “normal” or “expected” behaviors that other children the same age display? I certainly could have chosen to be offended and asked something that certainly would not have fostered further communication, such as “Are your parents okay with you?” No, that certainly would not have taken full advantage of such as teachable moment.
Perhaps I could take a different tack and used the opportunity to share a bit about my seemingly less than ideal circumstance. I could tell her that I was not okay with extra hours each day of therapies after the school day ended, nights where my son struggled to go to sleep, the special dietary requirements he had, or juggling the various appointments with specialists for everything from gastrointestinal issues to neurological concerns. After all this was a child asking an innocent question, and even if she were an adult, I doubt she would want to hear a litany of facts anyway.
But the question was not about any of these things. On some level, she was asking was I okay with having a child who is obviously different from everyone else. She was asking if I am okay with the fact that he thinks differently, acts differently, and feels differently than others. Am I okay and fully accepting of the fact that I have a child with special needs that takes more energy than I have sometimes? Am I okay with the pain I experience when he is rejected by or isolated from his peers? Am I okay with the grieving process that can continue when you hear parents of neurotypical children sharing report cards and success stories when your child still struggles to learn the color red?
My reply to her? A wholehearted, “yes, I am okay with that.” Why? Because my experience with my son goes beyond the challenges that we face as it has catapulted us into an area of growth my family could not have anticipated. His difference have helped us grow and change our perspective on how we look at things, how we look at this world. That is what diversity is all about.
I am now okay with the extra time it takes to do things in our lives. Time being slowed down allows me to better appreciate every single milestone. I am grateful for every painstakingly handwritten letter that took minutes instead of seconds to be formed. I am okay with the joy I feel when he understands what it means to smile for the camera when the very patient photographer says “cheese.” I experience such happiness with each and every wave from the bus window because it took two years of standing at the top of the house stairs waving at him to reach this moment. I find encouragement in knowing that he is differently abled and he has enriched my life in so many ways. Having a little blessing as a reminder to slow down and appreciate the small miracles of this life? I am definitely okay with that.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
- What challenges are you facing with your child(ren)?
- What do you appreciate about them just the way they are?
- How have these challenges been opportunities for growth in disguise?
Want to Learn More?
Bergina Isbell, MD is a Mayo Clinic trained and Board Certified Psychiatrist specializing in the clinical treatment of patients with history of Special Needs and Trauma. She is the mother of two children with special needs, including a son with a diagnosis of Autism. She serves as a consultant and Autism coach for those who want to transform their lives by developing a growth-promoting mindset. To join the Autism Alignment Movement and get access to free live interviews, click here https://bit.ly/autismstrategist.