Taking a step back, and looking objectively at my life as an ‘autism mum’ (or parent to autistic children ~ I have been criticised for the term as I am not [officially] autistic myself), I see that from the first interventions I was steered towards seeing what was wrong with my children, what they lacked, to recognise and describe how they were veering off that dreadful pathway, which is so casually described as ‘normal’.
There were many reasons for this negative coercion. To secure support, both practical and financial. To receive the children’s official diagnoses, in order to have a succinct explanation for anyone who felt that it was their right to question my children’s ‘otherness.’ To assure myself that I wasn’t going crazy.
My three children all have different expressions of autism, but are probably more different from one another than they are from the ‘norm.’
My eldest, Rosie, is incredibly creative, with use of language being one if her outstanding talents. Daisy, my middle child, and my youngest Lenny, are both classed as being none verbal, but even then, between the two of them, none verbal means something entirely different.
Daisy has a very young developmental age, and now, at the age of 21, makes only vowel sounds. She is able to express delight, contentedness, displeasure and pain quite easily with the use of her voice, but so far that is the extent of her vocal skills.
Lenny makes many different complex sounds. He can memorize songs, and often invents his own hilarious phrases. He can use echolalic expression with great skill (for example, once when his Dad was telling him off for scattering flour all over the dining room floor he responded by saying ‘Father duck says quack quack quack!’ which we roughly translated as ‘Stop going on about it, Dad!’ (or words to that effect).
He also invents words and phrases, one of my particular favourites being ‘Noggy!’ to anyone who displeases him. To be accused of being a ‘Noggy’ in Lenny’s world is probably akin to our most shocking swear words.
And yet he still falls into this category of none verbal, as his use of language is atypical.
Anyone who takes the time to understand him can very easily interpret his use of language. So maybe those around him who do not extend their understanding should be classed as ‘None Interpretive’ rather than him being ‘None Verbal’? Just a thought.
So back to the original question that I was posed when asked to write this brief account of my children’s differences. How do we encourage and help our children to reach their potential?
I truly believe that as parents/carers/advocates for young people with disabilities we have to look for, recognise, and fully appreciate their strengths.
Those of us lucky enough to have ever been in the company of someone who adores us unconditionally know how it feels to be truly appreciated for who we are, not for conforming to societal standards. When we are truly loved we blossom, effortlessly, like trees in the May sunshine.
And of course the same goes for our children.
My message is one of absolute acceptance. When we, as parents, become humble enough to learn from our children, then learning becomes a beautiful two way journey, instead of the traditional dictatorship.
As I see it, we can reach even further than the original goal of helping our autistic young people to reach their potential, we can allow them to help us reach ours, and we can forge amazing changes in our society’s willingness to value every individual.