"What is Your Child Good At?"
I always try to think of relatable stories to share. What things might another autism parent be feeling, but think they can’t share? What do I want the world to know about autism today? This particular post is a little hard to write about, I’m not proud of it, but I would venture to guess that it has happened to other autism parents as well. So here goes….
When my son was two, I enrolled him in music therapy. He didn’t have an official diagnosis yet – I was still hoping and praying that it was “just a delay” – but I knew he needed some sort of therapy. I knew what speech therapy looked like, and he wasn’t ready for that. A good friend was a music therapist, and my son loved music, so off we went.
As I took him to the clinic, I sat down to fill out a case history. The final page said, “List some things that your child is good at.”
…….I drew a blank. I didn’t know what to write. There were no pre-academic skills that I could say that my child had mastered.
Let that sink in….there was nothing that I could positively say that my son was good at. At this point in his life, I was questioning whether or not he could even hear me, because he never followed a single command that I gave him, yet he sometimes responded to his name and always came running when he heard a favorite show come on the tv. He didn’t follow directions, he couldn’t sit for any period of time, he didn’t really play much, he didn’t color, do puzzles, and he definitely wasn’t talking.
I got mad at myself. I could have listed tons of things that his older brother was good at: talking, drawing, listening and following directions, sitting and attending, being empathetic, playing, interacting with other kids and adults. How sad is that? I couldn’t think of a single thing that he could do – he wouldn’t even attempt most things, so how would I know if he was good at anything?!
I went down the proverbial rabbit hole…If I can’t even list any strengths for him as his mother, how can I expect others to see positive things in him?
I believed in him – oh! Did I ever believe in him! I knew he was in there, I knew he had potential, but he hadn’t really shown it in any measureable way yet.
I think I eventually wrote some things about his personality rather than skills that he had mastered: he loved music, he was very loving and affectionate, and he was the sweetest little boy.
Fast forward three years, and he is a completely different kid. ABA therapy has been a Godsend for him and our whole family. He is learning and making progress every day. Today, I can write a huge list of things that he is good at: sitting and attending, counting, naming colors, matching, following directions, initiating communication, successfully going to public places, using his AAC device to communicate, completing puzzles, playing with his brother, the list goes on and on.
In the last year, I’ve learned that success looks different for him than it does his brother. He is smart, just like his brother, but he learns differently. When he was two, I was holding him to this standard – the standard in my head of what he “should” be doing – but that wasn’t fair to him. He learns differently. He needs specific instruction for things that other kids just pick up on their own. He can be – and is being – successful, but that success is coming on his timetable, not mine.
Success for most four year olds is learning to write their name or creating a masterpiece out of cardstock, glue and cotton balls while attending preschool. For my son, success is learning to identify pictures of everyday objects, holding my hand as we walk down the street, or learning how to play tag with his brother.
I don’t know what his future holds – will he ever be able to go to school? Will he be a verbal communicator? Will he be able to hold a job? Will he have friends? I don’t know the answer to those things, but I am choosing – everyday – to celebrate the things that I do know: He is smart. He is capable. I am giving him every opportunity to be the best, happiest, most successful version of himself – and I couldn't be happier for every success and milestone that he reaches.