With the Walks for Autism gearing up in New York and New Jersey, I can’t help but to feel a duty toward advocating for the continued support for research and educational development for this epidemic (click here to read the CDC’s autism rate update).
Recently I watched a video entitled What Would You Do, an ABC series created by John Quinones, which put hidden cameras in a restaurant in order to examine ordinary people’s response to a family dining out with their autistic child. Upon watching the first two minutes of the video I became emotional and was brought to tears. I saw myself; I saw my four year old; and all I could think was, this is my family. As a parent of a child with autism you want your child to enjoy life outside of the home. And I can attest that there are those moments where as a parent you cringe and avoid eye contact with others because deep down you feel their eyes on your child – negatively judging him without understanding who he is.
As I sat there viewing the video I began questioning myself: “am I doing enough for my four year old son with autism?” As much as I want to stay at home and focus solely on the care of my home and family, I have to accept the fact that I made a conscious decision to return to the workforce – and I am quite satisfied with that decision. However, it is this decision and the Quinones video that caused me to sit one day, deep in thought, contemplating how much of an effect I have on my son’s overall development. I wondered, instead of making excuses or wallowing over not being at home, what can I do with the time I am not working at my full-time job to better my children?
When I look at my boys of course I see two beautiful children who are zealous and full of potential. I can definitely measure the amount of growth I have seen in them from the moment I decided a year ago to move from New York to New Jersey and remain a stay at home mother. My seven year old loves his current school, he adores his teacher who has been fully supportive of him and challenges him to rise to his fullest potential, and he understands the consequences of poor behavior. Presently he continues to ask, “mom, are you going to pick us up today?” which makes my heart drop because I understand the true meaning behind the question: he remembers the days that I didn’t work full-time and wants that time with me once more.
When I think about where my four year old started: 18 months old, screaming, non-verbal, not wanting anyone (except for his mother and father) to touch or hold him, afraid to look at people in the eyes, and unreceptive to play with or allow his brother close – I am amazed at the child he is today!
Although the “What Would You Do” video dug up emotions that seemed to have an effect on me more than I would have ever imagined, the video did provide me with hope and inspiration. Despite the fact that the autistic child in the video was disruptive, people – complete strangers – stood up for him! Whether or not they were internally judgmental, they were externally intolerant of the male customer chastising the family; they understood the family’s plight. Certainly my four year old screams at times in restaurants (sometimes out of frustration and surprisingly due to the fact that he knows we are out and that screaming will get him what he wants quicker than at home), and certainly he lacks an awareness of danger. But what I have invested my time in is finding him a Sensory gym in the neighborhood that (although not free) is run by specialists and therapists who make learning fun. He is verbal, receptive, and at times makes strong eye contact with everyone he comes in contact with. I can foresee endless possibilities for him and anticipate a positive outcome. We haven’t found an after school program for my eldest son yet – however a seven year old that loves World Wrestling Entertainment – I don’t think finding a sport will be difficult!