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The Most Courageous Autism Parent is You!

When you decide to become a parent, you embrace courage to tackle the job. But once the baby arrives, that courage can disappear and be replaced with self-doubt, fear and anxiety. Despite voicing your feelings, the people surrounding you will remind you that you know what to do and you’ve got this and you were born to be a mother (or father). Did you believe them? I have to admit that I did not but I was not willing to admit this. I was experiencing DIS-courage or the lack of courage and mental fortitude to tackle motherhood.

Admittedly, once I was home with the baby, things did come more naturally and my attitude began to shift to courage for parenting.

As time went on I happily mothered in a way that felt natural to me. Just the right amount of structure, healthy foods, outdoor time, play dates. All the things I felt were expected of me. But my son’s behavior was not as expected. He was non-social but extremely bright. He was impulsive and he loved to give unwanted hugs. Watching him struggle in school was a real eye opener. To paraphrase a Sesame Street song, one of these kids is not like the others. The difference was jarring and I knew I had to rethink my approach to motherhood and I had to find courage to do it!

Instead, I shut down and fought the knowledge that I had to take a different route. The courage just was not there and that was to my son's detriment.

My first courageous move should have happened in kindergarten. Instead of fighting with the school (this school would suspend kindergarteners by the way), I should have pulled him out. The urge to do what was expected of me was overwhelming. Every family puts their kid in school at this age and every family has complaints about their school. It was just normal, right? Well, not really. It was not normal at all and I should never have settled for it. We tolerated it even though it was not meeting our image of kindergarten. At the end of the school year, we left (or rather, ran) away as fast as possible, ready to embrace a carefree summer.

During the summer, I expressed my concerns to another mom. She asked me if I had considered another school. Honestly that never entered my head- that’s how conditioned I was. She recommended a local Waldorf School. This school was developed by Rudolph Steiner who saw a need for better schools for mill children in Germany. He was inspired to keep the children in nature, let learning blossom at its own speed and center the curriculum around the seasons and special holidays. One visit to this beautiful school in the woods with calming nature-centered classrooms, I was sold. We decided that since public kindergarten was such a nightmare, we would repeat it and give him an opportunity to have a positive kindergarten experience. This was a fantastic year- still with some struggles- but he was allowed to be himself. Then we began grade one and big changes happened.

His anxiety levels were sky high, he was distracted in class and his social skills were weak. But yet again, despite his struggles, we were determined to keep him in school. That’s what you do! Well, this seemed like an obvious solution so we clamored on ahead until grade 3 when we were strongly encouraged to meet with a neurologist to rule out autism.

It took months to get an appointment and after all the waiting and suffering we were told he does not have autism but we should do the following: horseback riding, social skills classes, occupational therapy and homeschool. After years of struggling with school settings, hearing a medical professional say we should homeschool was the permission we needed. Even though this decision went against the grain of what usually happened in our family, which is full of public school teachers, we embraced it. It took me long enough to realize that being a rule follower and a mainstream kind of gal wasn’t working and I needed to step outside of my comfort zone. So we began homeschool. I was surprised and delighted by people’s response to this news. They were cheering me on! All the fear I built up around this decision was self made. Finally, I felt courage to do what I felt was right and what my intuition was telling me. The message had been there all along but I was too stubborn to listen to it.

Deciding to homeschool him was life changing for us. Immediately his anxiety lessened. Since he was a fast learner we completed our school work in half a day. The afternoons were dedicated to his therapies and play. During the learning hours he was free to self regulate sensory issues by swinging in a hammock, sitting in a bean bag chair, standing as needed, snacking as needed, and resting. The pressures to copy the teacher’s work (which he would try to do with exact precision) were lessening. It took him a while to embrace his own hand writing (which was not like what he saw in school or printed materials) He could also access a keyboard which was vital due to his weak pencil grip.

Homeschooling did not come instinctively to me and I was terrified. However, the one thing I knew in my heart was that I had to help him feel successful. One of the best suggestions we were given was to take him to occupational therapy. This was so eye opening for us! A huge number of the struggles we had been working with were being addressed here. He would work with a therapist one day a week and we would practice during the week. By far his favorite tool was the rollers. These are two spongy rollers that he could squeeze himself between for deep pressure. Many of the tools at occupational therapy were founded by autism expert, Temple Grandin. She discovered the rollers for herself as a child and later used it in her designs for cow herding. By giving my son deep pressure, he could release stress and anxiety, and in turn, reduce his need for constant hugging. If we were not homeschooling there is no way we could have incorporated all of his therapies into our day. As a result we had become a happy little family on our own adventure.

By now, I was starting to feel empowered. I could take the skills I learned at occupational therapy and incorporate them at home. As my stress level cooled off and he leveled out, I had enough head space for intuition. Once my intuition turned on, I found my courage and I was able to proceed with confidence in my decisions for him. I even gained more confidence in my teaching style and noticed schooling opportunities presented themselves to us everyday. It turns out that the people who said I would know what to do, were right. I just had to find the courage to take my own path, listen to my heart and follow through on what I knew was right for our family.

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