Autism takes many forms, and is very misunderstood in the general population. The old stereotype of a child, rocking in a corner, unable to speak or function still comes to mind for many. I see this in the faces of people when I tell them that my son is autistic. People don’t know what to expect. The range of disability experienced by people with autism is so broad that they could only describe it as a spectrum! Today, many people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are very high functioning and able to make their way in mainstream society, albeit while experiencing difficulty in varying levels and forms.
When you recognize autism in your child or loved one, the initial reaction can be devastating and a period of pain, fear and grief naturally ensues. Discussions of the cause and cure become like trying to determine what started the fire while the building is burning down—they are secondary to finding immediate, healthy long-term strategies for survival and success. Eventually grief, by its nature, grows into acceptance of a new reality—a life with autism. Along the way, many parents like myself have wondered if it is possible to really make peace with the presence of autism in our child’s life and in our own lives.
It is possible to make peace–there is so much reason to hope for our children and for our families. Developing a meaningful, satisfying and healthy relationship with our loved one on the spectrum is doable. First, it requires shifting our mindset to exit the initial crisis mode and begin to adjust our expectations and approaches to the individual. A proactive decision to play the cards we have been dealt in the best way possible sets off a series of insights and changes in attitude, expectations and actions that maximize the outcomes for our autistic loved ones and ourselves. We are part of the autism equation, too.