Check out part one of this series, “Our Life on the Spectrum: How Autism Made Us Better Parents,” here.
When our son Roman was two, he was diagnosed with level 2 Autism Spectrum Disorder. We were in complete shock. Of course, I blamed myself. I questioned my entire pregnancy. I analyzed everything I had done from the second I conceived up until that very moment. What did I do wrong? There had to be an explanation. But there wasn’t. There is no known cause for Autism. You just learn how to adapt. You learn how to live life on the spectrum, because Autism doesn’t just effect the child with the disorder, it effects the entire family. (Here is a link from another mom on how to explain Autism to your children and family.)
What is Autism?
Autism is a condition that impacts one’s developmental and communication skills. Symptoms include repetitive behaviors, language disorders, and sensory dysfunction. Roman had every symptom. He often “stimmed,” which is a behavior that he would display when feeling overstimulated. It included flapping his hands, humming, rubbing his forehead on the floor, and banging his head against hard objects. Roman had a very hard time eating because certain textures were too much for him. He couldn’t talk. He never laughed. Several doctors told us that he may never speak. So we began to learn sign language to communicate with him. It was a very sad time for our family. We felt hopeless.
Following Roman’s diagnosis, we were able to get into an amazing program for Applied Behavior Analysis therapy. Regardless of how difficult is was to watch, we knew it was our only chance in getting Roman the help he needed. He would spend 40 hours per week at a school working with a team of ABA therapists. The first few weeks were the hardest. I watched strangers raise my two year old from behind a one way window, day in and day out. I had to let go, and let God.
Every day I cried. Watching a child struggle is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced in my life. We hated leaving him and watching him reach for us in tears, screaming as we walked out the door. Our son couldn’t communicate with us but a mother knows. He was scared, and so were we.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Months went by. After countless meetings, doctors appointments and home visits, we saw the light. First, Roman started learning simple words. Next, we noticed he was starting to engage with his sister. The bond they had became so strong that we included her in his therapy sessions, and we were able to get his cooperation by using her as his motivation. Slowly, we all became involved in the sessions, and it really helped Roman open us to us.
We were able to learn how to communicate with him in a way that he understood. It also helped us to understand where his struggles came from and put things into perspective. Also, my husband and I took parenting classes on how to raise children with ASD. Surprisingly, not only did this information help us with Roman, but we began applying certain principals into our daily routine with our other children and saw nothing but improvement from everyone.
What we thought was a diagnosis of doom became our family’s saving grace. We didn’t just learn how to communicate with our child, we learned how to communicate as a family.
Having a child on the spectrum requires a lot of patience, understanding, and let’s be honest. . . a whole lot of coffee! But learning how to create a structured, consistent environment for one child ended up working for all of us. Visual schedules, timed activities, and positive reinforcement are used every day in our home and not just for Roman. Mornings are smooth, mealtimes are fun, and our family time is better than ever.
This year Roman was taken out of special education and placed in a general education kindergarten class. And he has been seizure-free for a year and a half and proves doctors wrong every day.
He has opened our eyes, minds, and hearts to a world we never knew existed. Our family bond wouldn’t be as strong as it is today if it wasn’t for Roman’s diagnosis. I am a Christian, and there’s a verse in the Bible that I’m reminded of when I think about our situation. It comes from Thessalonians 5:18 and says, “Be thankful in every circumstance.”