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If You Have Met One Person with Autism…

As a provider for families with children on the autism spectrum, this statement is the most accurate one I know of to explain the complexity of autism. Your child’s needs will vary greatly based on age, functionality, therapeutic intervention, personality, and many other components.

As a parent of a teenager who has tested on and off the spectrum for all of his life, I also understand the complexity. There was a huge learning curve with my oldest and I had already been in the professional world of attachment and autism for several years.

The providers and therapies in your child’s life are important to their independence. With a lot of hard work and follow through, there will be breakthroughs with speech/language, movement, eye contact, friendships, personal hygiene, and more. It is a critical part of the life of a child with autism.

However, relationships breakthroughs are just as critical for your child. Whether or not your child can show you that you are the most important person in their life, it is a fact that you are the most important person in their life. Your ability to be consistently available to your child in a calm, interested and connected way is crucial to his or her whole development. Your ability to offer support and understanding when your child is swamped by his or her emotions is vital. The only person in the whole world that your child can connect and learn from in this way is YOU.

If you have met one person with autism, then you have met one person with autism.

Whether or not your child can directly cue you about their need to connect doesn’t matter as much as you remembering that your child needs to connect. If you can remember that your child is waiting to feel loved, nurtured, connected and safe, then I trust that you will look for moments to do just that. I remember the moment I realized that my son wanted to hug me but had no idea how to do it. I had to teach him step by step how to hug. The hugs were awkward for both of us for a long time, but now they are some of the best hugs I get.

I’ve learned from the parents I work with how tuned in and committed parents can be. You know your child. You know what is too much and what is not enough. You know if your child can tolerate hugs or foot massages or being tickled. You know if your child needs a break or needs to be supported while working through something difficult. Continue to be there for them in the wise ways that only you know and only you can provide.

Lastly, please remember this: you will need help and support along the way. You can’t give your child emotional support a thousand times a day if you are not receiving emotional support. This does not mean you are weak or you don’t know what you are doing. It means you are creative, strong and brave. It means you are committed to your child in a way that you have probably never been committed to anything else in your life. That commitment will change everything.

Katie M. Jessop, MA, has been a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the Spokane area for the past 11 years and attended her first COS training 13 years ago. She works with individuals of all ages and biological, foster and adoptive families. She and her husband have three sons: one adopted teenager, one biological toddler and are currently expecting another.