Mak­ing Peace with Autism To­day

Natural Solutions - - Get Inspired - BY JEANNE BEARD

Autism takes many forms, yet it’s 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 dis­abil­i­ties ex­pe­ri­enced by peo­ple with autism is so broad that they could only de­scribe it as a spec­trum: hence the of­fi­cial name, autism spec­trum disor­der (ASD). To­day, many peo­ple di­ag­nosed with ASD are ex­tremely high func­tion­ing and able to make their way in main­stream so­ci­ety—al­beit while ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fi­culty in vary­ing lev­els and forms.

When you rec­og­nize the signs of autism in your child or loved one, the ini­tial re­ac­tion can be dev­as­tat­ing; 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 me) have won­dered if it is pos­si­ble to re­ally make peace with the pres­ence of autism in their child’s life and in their 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. As par­ents, we are part of the autism equa­tion, too.

As our un­der­stand­ing grows, we adapt our meth­ods of re­lat­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing to bet­ter suit our autis­tic loved one’s un­der­stand­ing of the world. Be­cause those in­di­vid­u­als with autism are not re­ceiv­ing and in­te­grat­ing so­cial in­for­ma­tion like the rest of us, their mo­ti­va­tion and so­cial frame of ref­er­ence is quite dif­fer­ent. As a re­sult, their be­hav­ior can ap­pear of­fen­sive to the un­in­formed by­stander. When we un­der­stand how autism af­fects the think­ing and be­hav­ior of our loved ones, we can ad­just our re­ac­tions to pro­mote a bet­ter re­sponse from them. We can be­gin to take ac­tion to cre­ate fer­tile ground around those with ASD to en­able them to achieve the most they can, and to help them be­come com­fort­able in their own skin.

All of this is pred­i­cated by stay­ing healthy our­selves. We need to learn self-care strate­gies to take care of our­selves emo­tion­ally, psy­cho­log­i­cally, spir­i­tu­ally, and phys­i­cally, be­cause the in­di­vid­ual on the spec­trum prob­a­bly will not rec­og­nize or at­tend to our needs as we might have once hoped or ex­pected. We must seek out the val­i­da­tion and sup­port of oth­ers who un­der­stand the unique im­pact on our lives when we love some­one on the autism spec­trum. With this one skill, we can com­pen­sate for many of the dif­fi­cul­ties we face when autism in­vades our world.

By ac­cept­ing my cir­cum­stances and man­ag­ing them well, I have found that I have been led down a path that I could never have pre­dicted—and I have re­ceived many gifts that I would have never dis­cov­ered if I had not made peace with autism in my life.

Jeanne Beard has decades of ex­pe­ri­ence with Asperger’s syn­drome and autism spec­trum disor­ders. She is the au­thor of Autism & the Rest of Us: How to Sus­tain a Healthy, Func­tional and Sat­is­fy­ing Re­la­tion­ship with a Per­son on the Autism Spec­trum. Visit her at autisman­dtheresto­

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