Parenting a Unique Child: A Child Like Mine
It’s a BOY! I was overwhelmed with joy, pure joy. I was going to be a mom of a baby boy. Being a former tomboy, I enjoyed everything boy-related. I loved comic book superheroes, action figures, scary movies, playing with trucks and trains—all the stereotypical things related to boys. I was destined to have a son. I had always pictured myself the mom of a little boy, three to be exact. I was ecstatic, overjoyed, beside myself, could not wait—this was the most memorable moment of my life.
I had experienced a past miscarriage, so the sound of Jacob’s heartbeat brought me unimaginable joy. My husband and I had no trouble picking out a name. We had settled on Jacob, and my husband would call him Jake. He said it was a sporty name; Jake would be athletic. I picked the middle name Ryan because he would be my little prince. Jacob Ryan had such a nice ring to it.
Jacob was a typically developing child, nothing out of the ordinary. He had crawled late, and he only crawled for one month before walking. However, he was the first out of my “Mommy and Me” group to walk, to speak, to babble, to listen. He was my perfect son. I had not imagined motherhood being so wonderful. It was a dream. Sure, I had the usual fatigue and exhaustion, but overall I enjoyed being a mom. Jacob took a liking to books and reading, which did not surprise me. I was an avid reader as a child and read to my belly every day and night. I read to Jacob as often as possible. In fact, most of our time was spent at the library.
Something is amiss
When Jacob was around 33 months old, we started to notice a regression of previously-learned items. The child who knew the shape of octagon suddenly didn’t know what a square was; the child who could point to his elbow and thumb could not point to his nose; the child who was engaged in our daily conversations was suddenly silent.
We were taken aback. I knew instantly what this meant. I had worked with autistic children for years professionally. I knew autism—this was autism.
My husband was devastated; he refers to this time as “the dark years.” I felt differently. Here I was telling families what they needed to do with their children who had special needs or were on the spectrum, and all of a sudden, I was one of them. I was a parent of a child with special needs. It all became clear to me. Jacob was destined to be my child, and I was destined to be his mom.
Let it GO!
Sometimes parents can’t let go of their expectations for a child. There is a big difference between the child that you have and the one that you want. This does not mean that you do not love your child or that you are not happy. However, our expectations of children keep us from accepting them for who he or she actually is.
This mindset gets us into trouble when it comes to parenting. I often run into parents who want a different version or model of the child they have. Parents may not want to admit it, but they often want a more athletic, more independent, or more outgoing child. Well, this is the reality; you are not going to get it. You have to learn to accept the child that you have and all of the imperfections. However, this does not mean that you cannot have a satisfying relationship with your child.
The perfect child for you
The child you have is the child you were meant to have, imperfections and all. Do not torture yourself by trying to abate the relationship you could possibly have all because you are trying to have something that was not meant for you.
The child you have was designed to be a perfect piece to your household puzzle. He or she might not have met your expectations or the requirements that you had set forth, but your child is perfect for your family. Each child is born with a special gift that was ordained to him/her. You may not understand it at first, but give it time, and you will see it. Your child is supposed to have these gifts.
Here is the dilemma: the child is not capable of reacting in the desired way. This creates frustration for both the child and you. The child can only be who he/she was born to be and not anyone else. From the moment you see your child, you have already decided who you think he/she should be. Just think of how long you might have taken to come up with a name and what it means to carry that name. Do you go with a sporty name because you think your child is going to be an athlete or do you go with a family name because you think that this child is going to be a carbon copy of you? The point is, from the moment the child is born, there is an expectation of being something he/she may not be able to live up to.
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The child you have is faultless, and the dreams and aspirations that you once had are not gone. They just need to be addressed differently. Your parenting and teaching style just need to be modified. I incorporate what I call UNIQUE parenting for my UNIQUE Jacob.
U understanding: I look into the situation and how to respond
N not Judging: Each situation is different, can’t judge him according to the next child
I individualized: Everyone learns at their ability, different operating system
Q quirky: Embracing differences, it’s not typical how he learns, but he CAN learn
U useful: Suggestions & ideas that can apply to daily life. I only do what works for him
E exceptional & extraordinary is how I see him. Never a dull moment!
Acceptance is what we all strive for. Acceptance from society, spouses, parents, and peers. So why would it be any different for your child? Whether your child has a learning disability or is on the honor roll, the truth is he/she just wants to be accepted by the people he/she loves the most. Stop living in the fantasy of the child you wanted and come into the reality of the child you have. We often do not realize how simple things can make such a big difference. Something as simple as having a conversation can greatly impact the relationship that you have with your child.
Caterpillar to Butterfly
Before Jacob regressed, or I should say progressed into something new, he was different. Jacob could do a lot of things. He was a precocious child, and I felt like I had the best kid in the world. I had a little genius. My husband even discussed the possibility that our child might have Einstein syndrome. I never thought that this was autism. Autism to me was not a bad thing. But, for the first time, I had to rethink. I had to go back to the drawing board, and I had to reconfigure my personal beliefs. The child that I took home from the hospital was a caterpillar; Jacob was learning, growing, and developing to become something different than what I initially imagined. He was in one particular phase of life, which was comfortable and familiar to us, but there was more to come.
The child that I have now is beautiful, precious, precocious, adventurous, happy, sneaky, naughty, and vibrant. Jacob is full of life. He is intriguing and conscious. To me, he is by definition pure beauty—he is my butterfly. Jacob has brought me an immeasurable amount of happiness. I watch him as he accomplishes things that at certain times I did not think he would be able to do. Initially, I was happy with my caterpillar, but the emersion of this butterfly has come to be something that I could not have imagined. I do not think about the child that I’ve lost, but instead the child I have gained.
Beatrice Moise, MS, BCCS, is a mom of two children: Jacob who is awesomely autistic, and Abigail who is marvelously neurotypical. She is a board-certified cognitive specialist, a respected parent coach, and consultant and is the creator of www.AChild-LikeMine.com LLC A company created for educating parents of children with unique behavioral and learning needs. Beatrice has been providing tools that are useful and practical to parents for years in Charlotte, NC, and surrounding areas. She is very passionate about children and believes that working with families is both rewarding and enjoyable. She enjoys the delightful feeling of facilitating the needs of children to feel successful in their learning, emotional and social well-being, academic success and to have positive self-esteem. She has a bachelor of science in psychology and also holds a master of science in mental health counseling with a specialty in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) from Nova Southeastern University.
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This article was featured in Issue 76 – Raising A Child with Autism