Parenting Autism: Yes, Our Kids Do Show Affection

April is Autism Awareness Month, and I’m turning over the blog to amazing parent bloggers who have kids with autism. Today’s guest post is from Jennifer Byde Myers, mom to Katie, 5,  and Jack, 11, who has autism and cerebral palsy; she’s married to Shawn and they live in the San Francisco area. Since 2003 Jennifer’s been blogging at www.jennyalice.com, chronicling her family’s journey from diagnosis to daily living. She is a founder and editor of The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. Her writing has been featured at Salon.com, Autism Speaks, Care.com, and in several books including My Baby Rides the Short Bus. Jennifer has been interviewed on NPR, most recently on Forum with Michael Krasny. Here’s what she had to say:

What autism means to me and my family:

Autism adjusts our focus and makes it clear to us what’s important, and I think we celebrate small victories that we never would have noticed, much less appreciated. We know who we are as a family, what our values are and how we want to participate in our community. We figure out what we want to do and make the accommodations to make Jack successful. It’s made us more creative that way.

My child is awesome because…

Jack has a great sense of humor. He always seems to get the joke. Nearly all of his caretakers, teachers and therapists have concluded that my son is silly, funny, and perhaps a bit snarky. We foster and encourage humor in our family, and Jack is a part of that. He teases his sister, plays with his aides and has the best laugh.

Three things I want other parents to know about my kid and others like him are…

1) Just because he can’t talk doesn’t mean he can’t hear you. Kind words, mean words, he hears all of it. With my son, and with any person with disabilities we should start with, “Hello.”

2) Behavior is communication. Understanding this means you can begin to understand my child. If he’s tapping his fingers and he looks like he’s bored, he probably is. And if he’s tapping on the back door he’s waiting to go outside. We all use behavior to communicate; we turn away, we cuddle up. Some of Jack’s behavior is very subtle, like his squint of the eye to say “yes,” and some of it is very big, like throwing himself on the ground when we say he can’t go outside, but all of it is how he is doing his very best to communicate with us.

3) My kid is still a kid. He’s a child first, and always before his disability. And he is more like his family than like any other child with autism. He likes spicy food like his dad, and lots of pillows on his bed like his mom. Jack and his sister Katie both love music. People get wrapped up in labels, and they can help people to understand how to accommodate his needs, but he is an individual kid who has his own specific needs, like any other kid.

One misunderstood thing about kids with autism is…

That they do not show affection or develop relationships. I don’t know any autistic children that do not have significant relationships. Jack’s affection might be a light brush of his hand across yours, but if you pay attention you will see it. People who treat my son with respect are very quickly rewarded by Jack engaging with them. He shows preference in his aides, in his friends, and clearly shows his love for his sister and cousins with pats on their little heads as he walks by them. Jack loves the dog, and moped about the house like the rest of us when our other dog died last year. He goes to the gate to say good bye

Some of the best things I’ve found to help my child are…

Music, road trips, and nature; most of the time we combine all three. Jack loves rocks, pebbles, tan bark, sand, anything he can sift through his hands so we visit my family in Tahoe, or go to Yosemite quite often. We took the kids across the country (in an RV) a couple of summers ago and visited every National Park along the way. Give Jack a good song and a nice view, and he is set.

One of my favorite stories about my child is…

Jack has always been a “very good eater,” and we’ve been taking him to restaurants since he was a baby. Before he could walk he had already been to some of the finest restaurants on the west coast. We took a family vacation to Waikiki when he was 10 months old—he had a full set of teeth and a big appetite. Every day for lunch he would eat an entire chicken quesadilla with mango and papaya salsa and two glasses of milk. Waiters and waitresses each came over to meet the baby who could eat the whole quesadilla.

My most effective parenting strategy is…

Date night. My husband and I go on a date almost every week. It might seem extravagant, but keeping our marriage strong, and staying on the “same sheet of music” make parenting a lot easier. We talk about what is happening for our family, events that are coming up, and plans and accommodations we need to ensure success. Those Friday night catch-up and strategize sessions make life go smoother, and I love hanging out with my husband. Happy parents equal happy kids at our house.

 

Top image/Mandy Martyn Images

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  1. by Kathryn

    On April 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Points 1 and 2 are so true

  2. by Kathryn

    On April 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Dear Ellen,
    I thought you might like to know: Iron Chef Micheal Symon is part of season 2 of Chopped All Stars.He won the first part and will be in the finale.You are probaley reading this and saying “Why do I care?” Chopped AllStars is a charity competion on the Food Network and the winner of the finale which is on May 6th wins $50,000 for the charity of their choice.Micheal Symon is playing for Autism Speaks.

  3. by April

    On April 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    What a fabulous article, such great perspective on what is important to remember in the grand scheme of things, and a reminder of the simple things that are necessary to maintain a high quality family life. It is so easy for parents to become absorbed in autism treatment, and not so easy sometimes to see the child with autism as a child first, or to spend time as a couple to nurture the marriage.

  4. [...] How kids with autism show affection (Parents.com) [...]