This is the number of children who will be diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.
WebMD defines autism as a "complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors."
With Autism Awareness Month coming to a close, I felt it was necessary to direct an article to the parents. While one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, it is the parents who raise and protect them, holding their hands through every step of the way. While we should always spread autism awareness, no matter the month, I think it's also fair to recognize how autism affects not only children but their parents, too. I conducted some interviews with parents of autistic children to get a better idea of what it's like to live in an autistic world, and all I can say is, wow, you parents are true superheroes.
For privacy purposes, the parents who contributed to this article will remain anonymous.
Being a parent of an autistic child requires the parent to be well-informed on autism and stay up-to-date with how research has changed over time. Most parents have described that discovering the diagnosis of their child made them feel "shocked, worried and sad," and although they overcome many challenges with their child, "there were and still are more challenges that emerge" as they get older. Parents must face their child's obstacles with them, but maintain a strong face to encourage their child to keep going.
Many neurotypicals (non-autistic people) don't recognize exactly how difficult it can be to live with autism or to raise an autistic child. One of the most common struggles for both parent and child is the lack of awareness and acceptance that comes along with autism. Because people with autism don't always look autistic, it is hard for neurotypicals to understand what it's like. Autism affects not only a person's behavior but also their social interactions and communication skills.
With that being said, people are quick to judge others for acting differently than what is considered to be normal. Because acceptance isn't always attainable, it is hard for the child who has autism, and hard as a parent who wants to do everything they possibly can to make sure their child feels safe and accepted.
Another challenge that a parent brought to my attention is the "difficulty for their child to accept their disability," as they just want to "fit into the crowd" and refuse to accept the fact that they are autistic. This mother described that it's hard for her son, "but hard for her as a parent because she wants him to accept who he is and focus on his strengths," which to me, really emphasizes the effect that autism has on the parent. They can only do so much to bring their child to accept their disability and continue to support and encourage them, hiding the pain of watching their child struggle to accept who they are for their true self.
Although being a parent of an autistic child has its hardships, it is also rewarding. When I asked how autism has impacted the lives of parents positively, I was enthusiastically told that their autistic child has taught them "to be more accepting of others" and allow them to "feel more comfortable when around anyone with disabilities." Being a part of the autistic community also allows parents to make "many friendships with people that they may have never crossed paths with otherwise."
Caring for an autistic child also helps to develop parental skills that aren't always developed with the upbringing of a neurotypical child. For example, parents are taught to be more patient, approach things differently in the way they teach their children since they process things differently and to utilize "strategies that are used in their child's therapy sessions at home," all while maintaining basic parental skills used for neurotypical children.
With all that's said and done, parents of autistic children have to balance a lot, all while maintaining the act of staying positive. They do all that they can to keep their children safe and steer them into the direction of accepting their differences from others and encourage them to be happy with who they are. Whatever their child faces, so do the parents. They go through it together and as they go on, they learn from each other.
Every day they take "baby steps" and face new challenges, embracing every day and finding the capability to "appreciate the simple things in life." So if you're the parent of an autistic child, I want to congratulate you on all that you have accomplished. You are a real-life superhero and should be so proud of everything you do for your family. Don't get me wrong, your kids are magical too, but you are part of what shapes them into who they are. Continue being great and know that the rest of the world sees your strengths and is cheering you on.