There has become an infatuated focus on therapies, schools, and diets for a child diagnosed with autism. Parents have become focused – out of passionate love – to “fix” their child. However, why fix something when it is not quite broken? It is our job as loved ones to our children to see the best possible version of themselves, regardless of disability. What other creature on this earth loves unconditionally without judgment? A child with autism. What other creature on this earth gets up regardless of how hard they are knocked down? A child with autism. What other creature on this earth does not stay angry or hold grudges? A child with autism. What other creature on this earth is not fazed by negativity? A child with autism. What other creature laughs continuously at the smallest things? A child with autism. What other creature on this earth smiles for no reason, and instantaneously makes anyone who looks at them smile? A child with autism. Consider these following questions: is it our autistic children who are broken, or is it we who are broken? Who really needs to be “fixed”?
When we become overwhelmed beyond our capacity to cope with the constant movement of life and we are looking for answers, we can find some of those answers by simply turning to our child with autism. Our children are never mute, even if they are nonverbal. They speak through their being. We, however, have become deaf, sometimes lost in a sea of therapies, diets, and medications. The solution to the stress experienced by parents of an autistic child is simple. The solution is to become more like our children – simple.
Fifty percent of mothers with autistic children have a definitive skyrocket in depression scores compared to any other family member. The depression sprouts from an eating responsibility of the outcome or the cause of the autism. That all-consuming responsibility becomes the source of the constant need to fix their child. That nagging responsibility becomes the shutters over their eyes that distract them from the child itself. That tormenting responsibility is the robber, not the actual diagnosis of autism. We get away from our children, not our children getting away from us due to a diagnosis, a single word. Eighty-five percent of mothers of children with autism have elevated stress levels. Forty-eight percent were clinically depressed. Forty-one percent suffered from anxiety. As those numbers seem so outrageous and complicated, the cure to them is so simple. The relief to the stress of having an autistic child is simply to become more like our children, simple in a world that feels so overwhelming. They have the key to life that does not always have to do with therapies, diets, or books. The relief to parental stress is so simple that it is looked past. It is right in front of us.
The phrase “look at me” is a coined phrase in the autistic world when teaching a child with autism eye contact. A teacher or family member is constantly repeating “look at me” when they are trying to attain the child’s attention. When the child makes eye contact, their natural response is to repeat and say “look at me.” We brush this response off as just their natural response to our stimuli. Yet, what if they are trying to tell us something? What if the response “look at me” is not just how their brain is wired to respond? What if at that moment they are trying to give us that medicine to that overabundance of stress we are facing and actually look at them?
We need to love unconditionally, without judgment. We need to get up regardless of how hard we fall. We need let anger go and release grudges. We need to not be phased by negativity. We need to laugh contagiously at the littlest things. We need not to have to have a reason to smile. We need to actually look at our children when they tell us to, and not to be blinded by the need to fix something that could not be more close to perfection. We need to become more autistic. The fixing need is not for the child sometimes – it’s for us. The relief of caregiver stress is right in front of us. The person with difficulties with eye contact is not the child, it’s us. An aide to relieve the stress of a parent with a child with autism is not to forget to really look at the heart and soul of our child with autism when they tell us to.
Maria Rohan is a registered nurse at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Outside of the nursing field, Maria has dedicated her life to working with children with disabilities, trying to give the most opportunity possible. Having worked with children with autism for 10 years and having the autism diagnosis in her family, Maria writes interactive workbooks for children with autism, molding each workbook to their musical voice pattern, attention span, and their likes. She currently sits on the PTO of STEPS Center for Excellence in Autism and continues to let her love for the children plant seeds of movement.
This article was featured in Issue 51 – School: Preparing Your Child for Transition