autism, autism awareness, Autism Speaks, behavior, board of education, educational progress, family, Jersey City, library, New Jersey, philanthropic work, schools, Walk Now for Autism, working moms, writers
I recently read a post on the AutismSpeaks website that mentioned one parent’s New Year’s Resolution: “ to try to see the world through my son’s eyes.”
This statement allowed me to stop and reflect for a few minutes. When was the last time that I took a second to try and view the world – not through my autistic son’s eyes – but through my eldest son’s eyes. Immediately after I read this parent’s resolution, I wanted to know my son’s perception of everything going on around him.
As many parents may know, raising a child struggling with autism who also has siblings at times becomes quite difficult sharing an equal amount of time with the non-autistic child. Needless to say that in the past I was overcome with concern regarding my oldest son’s behavior and overall educational progress. My husband and I had recently moved from Maine to New York and were both working odd hours (and at times long hours) in-order to provide a solid financial foundation for our family. And although our intent was to better our family, the outcome was disastrous. Prior to moving to New Jersey, my eldest son at the ripe age of six was tossed aside at his New York public school and presumed destined to have a detrimental future. He hated going to school, he negated any form of homework, and cared even less about his overall appearance.
After failed backing from his New York public school and delayed testing, my husband and I wised up and moved him into his current New Jersey school. After seeing him spiral out of control and having my youngest diagnosed with autism I decided to become a full time house-wife (thankfully I was able to do this and I have the utmost respect for the parents who have battled similar situations while continuously working full time jobs). Within a month my eldest went from being this disorganized, non-working, and overall “bully” in N.Y., to a child that enjoys being around his friends and someone who is quite capable of following lessons and rules in New Jersey. He has made huge advancements in the past year; but what I stopped to reflect on is his areas of opportunity: his continued problem with “good” behavior, legible writing, and his inability to stay focused on one subject in comparison to his peers.
I truly wanted to understand him. How does he cope with having a younger brother (whom he loves and adores) who lacks the ability to hold a conversation at the age of 3? I find it interesting that the two of them play together and enjoy sharing the same bed while watching cartoons daily – and yet there is barely verbal communication. When my youngest son screams or does impulsive things in public, I wonder what my eldest feels? A very small part of me thought my eldest son’s behavior might be an outcry for more attention – the same attention his younger brother gets because he has a disability? I wondered for a while did he feel ashamed to have his younger brother around in daycare when he was the only autistic child there, or did he love him even more because he was his brother’s biggest advocate?
After a moment of feeling awful and questioning whether I as a mother was investing an equal amount of time with my children, I realized that yes…I was! Although I opted to go back into the workforce after seven months, I have been able to invest in my children’s future now more than before. For every potty training moment I spend with my youngest, I am able to read and help my eldest with homework. For every moment I spent ensuring eye contact, pointing, and verbal repetition I still managed to attend field trips, Christmas plays, open school night, reading comprehension and hand-writing exercises with my eldest son. I make time to bicycle ride, ice skate, and of course give lots of hugs and reassurance that each child is loved.
I didn’t write this as a pat on the back for myself nor did I walk away feeling assured that I am the mother of the year. What I am grateful for is the fact that I was able to reflect on my parenting abilities, an exercise I encourage all parents to do often. Take a moment to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and imagine what life is like for your son or daughter. What does he or she feel? What are his or her behaviors at home and toward other family members? And if there is more than one child in the home, alternate between the two – take one day to reflect on one child, and another day to reflect on the other. I find that this is a great way to get a temperature check on how you are doing as a parent and hopefully will build a stronger relationship between parent and child.