Enjoying the quiet early morning hours, that time before the house awakens, sipping coffee. It’s “My time”, the hour I give myself for me and my thoughts.
It was on one of those mornings that I was reflecting on the irony of my situation. My childhood taught me about God, a higher power that was there to silently talk to when you just needed an ear that wouldn’t judge, give advice, or argue your point of view.
On this particular morning I almost laughed out loud thinking of the irony. This higher power seemed to have a sense of humor. How else could I explain my situation? Here I was, 72 years young, and raising my deceased son’s eight year old. Now if that isn’t a reason to laugh… This higher power wasn’t content with just a chuckle.
He decided to add a little spice to this new role I was playing, He sprinkled a little ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) into the mix. Now I ask you, just look at this picture. See? You can’t help but laugh.
Sometimes life requires a laugh to take the stress off the situation. On this morning, that’s exactly what happened.
I think wisdom comes with age. This has a great deal to do with how we are addressing the needs of this beautiful little boy. I realized early on this journey that structure, routine, and repetition were the golden formula for us. He seemed to do better if he knew what was expected. Once I realized this, everything fell into place. Now that he is in school, routines help in every aspect of his life.
Parents need to realize that life takes planning. I hope giving you some insight into what works for us will help you see little things that can make life easier to navigate. I always make sure there is lots of time so I never have to start his day screaming, “Hurry up, you are going to be late!”
I usually allot an hour in the morning. When he wakes up, I give him a few minutes to really open his eyes while I make breakfast. While he eats, I lay out his cloths in a stack, in the order they are put on: underwear, socks, pants, shirt. This gives him time to eat, dress, brush his teeth, and comb his hair with time to spare.
The key is to give them time and cues. Once he finishes breakfast I usually say, “Go brush and get dressed”. He brushes his teeth and then maybe ten minutes later I call out from where I am, “Are you dressed?” He usually says “no”, I follow the “no” with “Go and get dressed.” Yes, he gets side-tracked, but there is plenty of time. While he dresses, I make his lunch and put the backpack in its place so he can grab it as we go out the door.
All of these cues get him going with no stress for either of us. I am not yelling and screaming. I am giving simple cues that set the tasks into motion. At last ready, he usually has time to spare.
Parents, I encourage you to take cues from your child. It isn’t worth frustrating yourself over these situations. Simply listen to what the child is saying and plan your strategy from there. I found that jogging/sweat pants are best, but since he wears uniforms to school, I make sure I always wash the pants to get the stiffness out of them. Shoes are a big problem, so I account for width, with Velcro closures. When I find something that works, I run with it.
Food is another huge problem. Many, if not most, kids with ASD have sensory problems as well as food texture likes and dislikes. We cook most of our food at home. We always have mini carrots, fruit, or popcorn for snacks. If I want cookies, I make them from scratch. We only use Rice Chex cereal or oatmeal with organic milk.
We make French toast and pancakes from scratch. A little real maple syrup goes a long way with sweetness. I always make a huge pot of chicken soup from scratch and freeze it in portion servings, then cook fresh orzo to add to the bowl before serving, this way I know he is eating something he likes and I don’t stress because he won’t eat what we are having for dinner.
I should note that I know there are certain foods he has an aversion to, so I don’t make him eat them. Texture plays a big role here. Again, I suggest taking cues and be creative. I also always have the fixings for a smoothie to use as an afterschool snack. I add ¼ of a container of tofu, a little milk, a frozen banana and fresh fruit like strawberries, peaches in season or blueberries. The tofu gives the drink some added protein, and he doesn’t know I put it in.
It wasn’t long after starting Pre-K that we realized how difficult his education would be. I started working with him every night, 10-15 minutes. I noticed early that ASD kids need variety in their learning. Not different subject matter, same subject matter presented differently. If working on the alphabet, we used magnetic letters, writing in cornmeal, using a small chalk board with a little square wet piece of sponge and a cotton ball to erase and dry the board.
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First, he wrote the letter with chalk, then went over the same lines with the wet sponge and finally went over the wet lines with the cotton ball, repeating the letter name each time.
Using this method, he wrote the same letter three times, practice makes perfect. Later I added the letter sounds. The entire process took two years, but when he was ready for Kindergarten, he knew the alphabet.
Kids with ASD are very smart, but they have their own way of learning, once you find what works run with it. I continue to use the same principle with spelling words, I group the list of words by vowel sound, rhyming words or first letter blends, and practice a chunk of them. Keep the sessions short around 15 minutes, and then a 10 minute break.
When we start again, it’s a different subject. Use judgement. Is it better to force feed 20 words and retain nothing, or is it better to strive for 10 words, pass the spelling test and feel proud? Work load is something that an IEP should outline. Less is sometimes more.
Reading has been hard, but we persevered. He has worked with a wonderful reading specialist who used the Wilson method for the past three years. Now we are in the third grade and guess what, he IS reading! He now reads to himself and passes AR (Accelerated Reader) tests for comprehension. We would read out loud every night.
Once the text got longer, more print on a page, it overwhelmed him so we would each read a page. It was a slow process, but we made it to the finish line. It takes a huge commitment on the part of the parent, but it is worth every minute to see the accomplishments.
The best advice I can give a parent working with ASD is:
Take some time out of each day for “You”.
Listen and take cues from the child, they will let you know their needs/wants.
Remind yourself, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time, but the rewards are beyond belief.
Every child is unique, allow them to be themselves.
In closing, allow me to pass on some words of wisdom from Ignacio Estrada, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we need to teach the way they learn.”
This article was featured in Issue 100 – Best Tools And Strategies For Autism