Parenting corner: Busting autism myths

By Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center

 

Autism is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of many parents. They imagine an autisti child as withdrawn and silent. A child on the autism spectrum does have special needs, but is misunderstood. Four mothers from the BCNC Parent Advisory group, who have been renamed Ann, Becky, Clair and Doris, share their stories of raising children with autism.

 

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder affected 1 out of 45 U.S. Children, with the majority being boys, according to a 2015 study. Behavior presents in infancy, with symptoms including speech delays, impaired social skills, repetitive behavior and sensitivity to external stimuli.

 

How did you find out your child had autism?

“When my daughter was three, she still could not speak, so she would point to things she wanted and cry when she didn’t get them,” Ann said. “I suspected she had some developmental delays, as she didn’t like to play with other children and would not make eye contact when spoken to. Most kids play with toy cars by rolling them on all surfaces. My daughter would line up her cars in a straight line instead.”

The mothers all reported their first observation was their children did not speak or were limited even when they were older. Each mother at first thought a speech delay was to blame and sought a specialist, when they got a diagnosis of autism. The mothers suffered a huge initial shock, along with panic and stress from friends and family. Despite feeling overwhelmed, they worked to learn more and sought help.

“My mother could not accept my son’s diagnosis and I was under tremendous pressure,” Clair said. “I told myself for my son’s sake, I would get over my hangups and accept him, regardless of how others saw him. The parent’s attitude is very important. If the parent is unwilling to reach out and tell others about what’s going on, they will lose many resources to help their child. If you look hard, you will find a great deal of support.”

All children displayed autistic behavior before the age of three. The four mothers strongly urged parents to watch for red flags and get help as soon as possible. Once you have consulted a family doctor, your doctor can refer your child for an early intervention to do more in-depth observation.

 

What services did you find after your child’s diagnosis?

Once a child is diagnosed as autistic, doctors will refer your child to agencies with related services, such as Boston’s Building Blocks. A therapist will come to your home to conduct applied behavior analysis (ABA), which reinforces positive behavior. In Massachusetts, any child diagnosed with autism or other special needs after age 3 must attend school and have priority for public school preference.

 

How do you nurture an autistic child?

The best way to raise an autistic child is to show love and patience, said the four parents. Children are sometimes unaware of others, so it helps to do interactive activities such as reading or painting. This lets the child know of the existence of their parents.

Many children are unwilling to communicate with their parents, so parents will need to be proactive about asking how they are. Parents can ask open-ended questions to develop their children’s verbal skills.

“At first, my daughter did not want to tell me about her day after school,” one mother said. “She didn’t know how to express her feelings, so I showed her how and she became more willing to talk to me.”

Research shows pets help autistic children improve their social skills. Children who are unwilling to be social should be encouraged to interact with others, which is sure to cause resistance.

“My daughter would sob in the beginning and I would too, as it was so painful for her,” a mother said.

Parents need to be determined and persistent for their children’s social development goals.

 

What other help or resources do you need?

“I hope schools can be more integrated, allowing more special needs children in typical or mixed classrooms, rather than being separated into special classes,” Doris said.

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