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 Jill Gambill is a Public Service faculty and Coastal Resilience Specialist for the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. She is the mother of 13-year-old Cheyten Hernandez-Gambill, who has autism.
A is for Awareness
When and how did you first become aware that something was different?
My child’s preschool teacher was the first person to notice my son was developing along a different path than his peers. He hated noise but was the loudest child in the room. He loved his friends but often was so boisterous he unintentionally hurt them. He was my first child, so I had no point of comparison.
However, when his little brother, who was two years younger, began reaching milestones before him, I realized something was going on.
U is for Unique
How has this experience been unique for you and your child?
My son and I have a very close relationship. He has taught me a new way to see and experience the world. I am in tune with his moods, I know whether he is rested or hungry, and I notice things in the environment that might affect him, like the noise in restaurants or energy of crowded spaces. Walking through life by his side has made me more empathetic and patient. I am constantly amazed by his strength and grit.
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T is for Tools
What tools are there now that were not there in the beginning that could help other parents?
Many children are not diagnosed with autism until six or seven years old. This can make the early years very lonely and frustrating, as you struggle to determine what is going on. When my son was little, I often worried everything was my fault—that I was causing his behaviors or creating challenges by not parenting him correctly.
There are now robust online communities where parents in that pre-diagnosis phase can ask questions and seek support. At their best, social media groups can help build bridges and connect parents in all stages of this journey. There is nothing quite like having someone else say, “I know exactly what you mean and am struggling with that too.”
I is for Inspire
As a parent, when you look at your child or children, what inspires you?
My son is a powerhouse. He climbs personal mountains every single day. Then he wakes up and does it all over again! He is resilient. If we have a rough moment, he bounces back. He moves on. He is fearless. He navigates through a world not made for him with contagious passion and undefeatable force. He inspires me by the way he knows himself and is secure in telling others what he needs to feel safe and happy. That can be hard for even adults to do sometimes!
S is for Support
Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with and what types of support do you still need?
I struggle with feeling isolated, as most of the people in my life can’t relate to our daily struggles and triumphs. My son’s milestones often look different than others. There are many days when I have been wrung raw and have absolutely nothing left to give. I struggle with having enough time and energy to devote to my own mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Maintaining a healthy balance can be difficult but knowing other moms in similar situations helps me realize I am not alone. My parents are a huge source of support, and it means so much to have them alongside us celebrating those moments of joy and success.
M is for Manage
What keys to success can you leave with parents so they can better manage their day to day efforts?
Make time for your own well-being. Like the flight attendant says, “Put your own mask on before helping others.” Call a friend and go to lunch. Take a nap and don’t feel guilty about it. Do whatever you need to refill your cup.
Trust your instincts. You know your child better than anyone else, and sometimes that may mean you’ll have more insight than even your doctors or therapists. Getting the right blend of support for you and your child can take time and involve several twists and turns, but keep fighting, advocating, and searching. You can do it!
This article was featured in Issue 101 – Balancing The Autism Journey