Autism affects my husband’s family in a personal way. His sister is autistic. She is high functioning and able to hold down a job. However, she needs help and support as she moves through life to do basic things. Even though she is somewhat independent, she needs someone by her side to help her through the more difficult tasks and decisions. She is a sweetheart and we love her so much!
My son also loves his aunt and being with her because they both love talking about the same things. Hugs have always been a challenge for her because most people with autism do not like to be hugged or touched. We are a hugging family, so she hugs but somewhat awkwardly. For her, we have to show her love in a different way and that is by spending time with her, sending her cards to let her know we think about her, and doing things that she likes to do. She does struggle to show love, but I think time has helped her and so has family. Her biggest challenge is dealing with people who do not understand autism and her limitations. She is frequently yelled at or made fun of while doing her job. It really hurts her feelings and it can affect how she functions. When this happens, her job coach or one of the family members will sit down with her to help her process the situation. It’s hard to see her dealing with this when you know she doesn’t deserve it.
My husband also has an undiagnosed aunt that more than likely has autism, but when she was younger, autism diagnosis was unheard of where now it is a more common occurrence. His uncle has lived with her to make sure she was taken care of since she struggled a lot more. We don’t know her as well, but we are getting to know his dad’s family a little more each year.
Autism runs in the family and so when our son was born, both of us were very afraid he might have some of those issues as well. He did show signs of autism early on and so we went through Early Intervention Services through the state. He initially lost his language skills early on, along with other key markers, and still flaps when he is excited. Although he hasn’t been formally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I do see signs of it in him. We recently received an ADHD diagnosis and that should help with receiving services from the school. Because of how he reacts to things we have to remind him to slow down and take a breath. His mind races like the Indy 500 and so it is difficult for him to stop and think through what he’s trying to say or do. We have had to be extremely patient with him and explain things to him over and over. He struggles socially with kids older than him and has been physically attacked a few times by other kids before he was 3 years old. He’s very loving and craves our attention like a sugar addict. His biggest challenge is that he doesn’t understand social cues and that can put in him situations where he might be attacked, made fun of, or ostracized. It breaks my heart to see him not understand that some kids don’t want to play with him because he is different. It’s so hard to explain to him that maybe we should redirect his focus elsewhere because we know and can’t tell him that these kids will tease him and ignore him. He has a long road ahead of him and from what I have been reading, the diagnosis for boys is becoming more and more prevalent.
I met a woman at the hospital recently and we ended up talking about our sons. They both are the same age and had similar signs and traits that caused both of us to believe our kids were on the spectrum. We both went through the same struggles to get our sons help. It’s amazing how helpful these types of conversations are to parents and I know she was happy to talk to someone else who went through the same struggles. The only difference was that they were a military family and so they received the therapies they needed outside of school whereas we struggled to get therapy in the school since therapy outside of school was cost prohibitive to us.
Because there was a recent change in how they diagnose kids on the spectrum, I believe that more children will be helped than before. I know that kids have fallen through the cracks in school situations because the average teacher doesn’t know what to look for when dealing with kids who might be on the spectrum or might have issues that aren’t full blown autism. Parents are the first line of diagnosis. I know from experience that the more you follow through with specialists and evaluations, the better chance you have in giving your child that extra ability to survive and thrive in their environment.
If you need more information on the early signs of autism, The Help Group has a fantastic brochure that gives you the warning signs and early signals for autism. Although they are based in California, the information is very useful and they have helped many families across the US.