Living with Autism - Part 1

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I don't have autism, but my son does. As a single father raising a 6 year old autistic child, I live with autism every day. Well, he does go to his mother's a couple days a month, so not every day. The days off are a nice break.

I can offer some insight to what I have gone through as a father raising my son. Michael is a wonderful person that has so much joy in him and gives me happiness everyday... and yet at times he makes you want to wring his neck, ya know? (so to speak...take a breath...) Anyhoo...

I lucked out, or I should say, my son lucked out, to be a fairly high functioning autistic child. He is currently in 1st grade and doing very well. He goes to clinical speech therapy in addition to the ST and OT he gets at school.

Michael is very smart and knows a lot about animals and is starting to read. Much of his time at home is spent on the computer either watching Lion King or playing Jumpstart Learning games. I don't believe his intelligence is an issue, but communication is a big problem that we are working on. He has actually gotten much better in the last few months since school started again. I feel very positive about how his progress is going.

Below are a few things that I have learned first hand.

Start Young. The first word of advice I could give to anyone that suspects their child may have autism is to start the evaluation process. Push the issue with your doctor and get a referral to a specialist. The sooner you know for sure the better. The sooner corrective measures can be done the better. If you doctor gives you any guff over the issue, push harder. Make sure you get your child evaluated as soon as possible.

Educate Yourself! Don't get too hung up on any of the conspiracy theories, it won't do any good. Do, however educate yourself and your family on what you are faced with. Focus on the important stuff, like what's next.

Patience. Without patience you will have a very hard time dealing with an autistic child. They are very unique individuals, and each one is different from the others. Learn to let things go and also to put your foot down. Spilled milk can be cleaned up and poopy diapers won't kill you, but you can't let the child walk all over you either. It was very difficult to come to common ground with my son, but once I did, it started to get much better every day. Remember to breath and walk away if you need to. Take a moment to gather yourself.

Discipline. This is a tough one. Depending on how well your child can communicate, it can be difficult to discipline them for acting out inappropriately. I know it sounds harsh, but if your autistic child is on the high end of the spectrum, they need discipline like any other kid. Without discipline, an autistic child will become spoiled like any normal functioning child. It is important to instill in the child who is boss. You are the adult and the boss. The child is dependent on you to survive and you are the boss. Be loving and playful and caring, but always be the boss. Don't let the child rule you. Start young and be consistent. Your child will love you for it and you will be able to maintain control.

Make it FUN!!! I can't explain the feeling I get when I give my son something that he truly loves, the look in his eyes and the smile on his face. Anything from a trip to the Zoo to his favorite ice cream to a ride in the truck. The love in his eyes when we take turns tickling or giving raspberries. Laughing. Having fun. The reward is so great when he looks into my eyes and we have that connection.

Love Them. Give your autistic child all the love you can. The balance can be tough and can take a toll, but that is another post.

Mike Young

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