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 Chelsi McFadden. She is a firefighter’s wife, the mother of three boys, and a couples and wedding photographer living in Fort Bragg, California. Chelsi believes children with autism march to the beat of their own drum, not because they are broken, but because they hear the music slightly differently than she.
Her 14-year-old son lives in a world where things should be exactly as they seem and there are no gray areas, a world where people say what they mean and mean what they say. She believes he’s completely perfect in every way.
A is for Awareness
When and how did you first become aware something was different?
I became aware something was different about my child when he was two years old. Aiden was able to remember exactly where he left his toys; if one was moved or out of place, he would say “not quite right” and move it back to where it was. He would sort his toys by shape and color then place them in a neat and straight line. He was able to recite his alphabet and count to 20. He memorized his favorite books and was already speaking in complete sentences.
U is for Unique
How has this experience been unique for you and your child?
Our experience has been unique in that we never treated Aiden as if he were different. He was never set apart or made to feel inferior. We have given him space to become exactly who he is meant to be, a bright and beautiful young man who cares for others and the world around him.
T is for Tools
What tools are there now that were not there in the beginning that could help other parents?
I wish someone had been there to help me navigate the Special Education world. As a parent who was just coming to terms with the fact her child had autism, it was difficult to understand all the educational jargon that came along with applying for resources and accommodations for him in school. We started the process when he was in first grade and didn’t have an IEP until he reached 5th grade. I believe the process is much easier now. My advice would be to find your local regional center and ask for an advocate.
I is for Inspire
As a parent, when you look at your child or children what inspires you?
I am inspired by Aiden’s innate ability to find beauty in the details. He is a budding artist focused on the minute details of nature, drawing not only the flower in the vase, but also the leaves with all their
veins and curly stems. When he draws hands, he draws the textures of a person’s hands. He marvels at every new piece of information he is given about our planet and is determined to leave the world a little bit better than he found it.
S is for Support
Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with, and what types of support do you still need?
Judgement—especially from other parents. When you have a child who can be aggressive or act out, especially in public, it is an isolating experience. People who haven’t parented a child with special needs can make you feel like a terrible parent. Parent guilt is extremely amplified for special needs parents, so judgement can be disheartening. I want more people to remember to be kind, as they may not know the full story behind someone’s behaviors or actions.
As a special needs parent, don’t forget you need to make time to get help and recharge, too! Self-care is so important, yet many of us fail in this category. Parental stress is a real thing and can have serious repercussions if it is not addressed. Formal support groups are a great option because parents can talk with people in similar situations.
We have struggled with finding resources in our rural area for social learning and therapy. We drive three and a half hours to UCSF Star center for evaluations every so often, but even that is a stretch.
M is for Manage
What keys to success can you leave with parents so that they can better manage their day to day efforts?
I think the most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself first. Even if it seems impossible, you CAN carve 10 minutes out of your day for a bath, or to read your favorite book, or to just breathe or pray. If you don’t take care of you, eventually you won’t be able to take care of him/her either.
This article was featured in Issue 98 – Fresh ASD Guidance For A New Year