An Exclusive Look at AUTISM With Jean M. Grant
Encouragement Speaker Derrick Hayes gives an AUTISM Interview by asking six questions through each letter in the word AUTISM to give readers an insightful perspective from parents, experts, entrepreneurs and other leaders in the field.
Today’s AUTISM Interview is with Jean M. Grant who is a scientist, author, and mom to two active, nature-loving sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts. She writes where her heart takes her…from castles to craters to crags of all kinds, drawing inspiration from her love of family, history, and travel. She writes historical and contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and non-fiction family-oriented travel articles. Her website can be found at http://www.jeanmgrant.com.
A is for Awareness
When and how did you first become aware that something was different?
“He wandered off the playground again, Mrs. Grant,” our son’s first-grade teacher had said.
“It’s amazing your son [fill in the blank with: can tell exact Roman numeral time at age five, draws atlas-accurate maps at age six, knows so much about science and weather, loves to talk to adults…],” said many people in his early years.
The word autism had been bouncing in my mind since our son’s toddler years, because mostly it had become *that buzz word*. Then I had coffee with a good friend shortly after the playground incident, and she suggested he may have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That night, I researched. All those “quirks” people doted upon in preschool were autism hallmarks. We had a sure-fire confirmation the day of a school schedule change, and he had a full-on meltdown.
He had a host of other sensory and executive functioning issues: delayed social developments, sound and texture sensitives, difficulty in crowds, obsessions, rigid thinking…my list of attributes matched the ones I found when I began to research. Eerily, it had felt like those researchers were writing about my specific child.
Those cute quirks (and yes, many we still find cute because it’s part of who our son is), were signatures of autism. We took the next steps. And hence, our journey with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s syndrome had begun.
U is for Unique
How has this experience been Unique for you and your child?
I’ve been deeply embedded in the autism community now for over five years. What I’ve learned, besides coffee is your best friend, is that each person with autism and their family is different. Our family’s “normal” is nobody else’s. We nurture our son’s unique spirit, and perhaps we do it differently than most (in fact, I know we diverge from our neurotypical peers), but that is our normal.
There is no set way to raise a child; add in a special need, and that baby book goes flying out the window. Our son lies on the fringe of autism and neurotypical, which means people have higher expectations for him to function like others in the classroom/social/life setting. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t.
T is for Tools
What tools are there now that were not there in the beginning that could help other parents?
The most important tool, beyond medical and therapeutic interventions, is knowing other parents of special needs children. We are a grassroots army. For our own journey, one special parent was a beacon in the early storm of autism, chockful of information on health insurance, governmental programs, local autism organizations, therapies (play therapy, applied behavioral analysis therapy, counseling), and the dreaded Individualized Education Program (IEP) gamut.
She was a life-saver for us, and I am forever grateful. When I found myself in need and struggling, I formed a local Facebook group for parents and special needs professionals to connect. We now have over 500 members. It’s been a game-changer for me and many others. I know exactly who to reach out to when in need of assistance. I’ve even utilized a state representative’s aide for my constant insurance rollercoaster battles. But all that came with learning and time. There is no foolproof method.
Not everything should be a battle either. Know what? They have airline programs for autism. The National Parks Service offers a lifetime Access membership. Our son loves meteorology, and after reaching out to a local news channel, they invited us to visit the weather center and news station! That was one of our best days, ever. Discounts, grants, programs and groups, camps designed for children with needs…it’s out there. Network, ask, research.
Click here to find out more
I is for Inspire
As a parent when you look at your child or children what inspires you?
Our son, now 11-years-old, continues to inspire our family. His younger brother idolizes him; they are playmates and best friends and a complement. It’s heartwarming how they can bring out the best in each other. We nurture both our children’s love of nature and the world around them. Our son continues to make huge strides in school academically, and we have hit highs (and of course roadblocks) in social developments, much like most parents.
We know that when a situation arises, we need to approach it in a modified way, for what suits him and our family. Our son has much empathy, compassion, and love for others. We are so proud to be his parents, and we know that big things lie ahead for our future Mr.Meteorologist or some sort of -ologist…
S is for Support
Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with and what types of support do you still need?
The emotional element. Hands down: that is what nobody tells you about. As parents, it hurts to see our son struggle. It drives me nuts when I must fight through the red tape on a day after being exhausted because our son may have had sleep anxiety, or a meltdown, or a struggle in school…and despite connecting with many other parents, the feeling of loneliness or others not understanding our challenges still pervades sometimes.
Living on the fringe, we have lengths of “doing all right,” to only be reminded about the reality of nope, yeah, he has autism. It is an emotional journey. Though we’ve adapted our own coping mechanisms and routines for our family, sometimes it is just exhausting. My husband and I are on the same page with our children.
Our children have a championing grandmother who is a superhero. I have friends who listen. My biggest recommendation is to find your tribe of support—be it family, partner, friends, social group, or therapist. Or all the above.
M is for Manage
What keys to success can you leave with parents so that they can better manage their day to day efforts?
How do I manage? Hope. Support. Love. I’m also a bullet-list person. I’ll leave you with my keys to find success for yourself and your family.
- Set your own specific goals for yourself and your child.
- Be willing to modify those set goals, again and again.
- Celebrate milestones, big or small.
- Try not to compare to other families or kids, neurotypical or not. It’s your journey, not theirs.
- Reach out to support groups—social media, organizations in your town, at school.
- Can’t find a group? Start your own. There are others like you in need. Sometimes we need to be the one to get the ball rolling.
- Nurture your child’s spirit the way that works for your family. Throw the books out the window. I find the more I fight the natural rhythm and try to give in to society’s “standards” the harder it is. Roll with it.
- Let your child lead.
- Take advantage of health insurance, governmental programs, organizations, grants, and any resource you can get your hands on. All may not apply to your unique situation, but you don’t know until you try.
- Autism is only part of who your child is, and it is not a sprint. Parenting is truly a marathon. If you find the challenges too hard at any point, seek professional help or speak with a friend.
- Take time for you. You are more than a parent; you have a spirit that also needs tending. Take a break! Go out. Do what makes you fulfilled and recharges your batteries.
New diagnosis and don’t know where to start? Take it one step at a time. Find a local organization; they are willing to walk those first steps with you. Ask a friend.
This article was featured in Issue 89 – Solutions for Today and Tomorrow with ASD