Imagine your baby not babbling or cooing, or gesturing with points and waves by 12 months, not saying a single word by 16 months, or not using two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months. Or imagine your child losing language or social skill at any age. These are the red flags for autism spectrum disorders, today’s fastest growing developmental disability.
Fortunately it is now clear that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome for a child diagnosed autism spectrum disorder. And as Greg Webb, father of two sons with this disorder tells us, life with a child with an autism spectrum disorder can be every bit as rewarding as life with any child.
We are incredibly blessed to have two boys on the ‘high functioning’ end of the autism spectrum. As overwhelming as it was to receive that first diagnosis over three years ago, our views on what such a label might mean for their individual futures have radically changed.
We are no longer sad about the diagnosis. Our children are fascinating. Intricate. They possess beautiful minds, and they communicate fully – though it did take us awhile to learn and practice how to maximize their potential to do so.
Early and sustained behavior intervention has certainly helped. Not just them, but us as parents. We learned how to ‘pre-load’ and practice what was expected in settings like birthday parties, in order to side-step potential social anxieties. We learned how to break down already-simple situations into even smaller bite-sized pieces that could be mastered one step at a time, adding visual reinforcements that played to their strengths of understanding, rather than insisting on relying solely on our sometimes confusing verbal cues.
There have been sessions with Occupational Therapists, Music Therapists, and Psychologists who facilitate social groups. There have been conferences where we’ve shared with other families and learned from experts – including learning why saying, “Pay attention” is too vague for our guys, while saying, “Think with your eyes” works wonders. And there have been the more private insights, too — like the way to transition from playtime to mealtime is to first join in with whatever our boys are doing, in their space and on their terms, before then offering a piggy back ride to the dinner table, instead of calling over and over and louder and louder without even an acknowledgment, much less an ‘appropriate’ response.
Games and puzzles, movies and music, play dates and swimming lessons – everything we expose them to now is a potential conduit to the expression and maximization of their potential. – And isn’t that really what good parenting, of any child, is about? All our children are unique individuals, and when we can tap in to who they are and what they can offer to the world, we can help foster that offering. From this perspective, the tools that help those with additional challenges to flourish are the same tools that help those without additional challenges to fly.