Meet Alexander, an outgoing 5 year old that was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old. Alex was really interested in the Heritage Center and what it had to offer, and preferred to look at that over me!
Alexander was full of energy. His parent's could not get him to sit very long to complete a task. At the Grocery Store he would run out of the store the minute he thought they were finished. Alex continued to flap his hands after age four when he became excited. During potty training, he became incredibly afraid of the toilet flushing. While swimming he was also fearless of jumping into the pool without a life jacket on. Alexander also continued to have a Speech Delay from the time he was fourteen months up until he turned five.
Alexander likes to keep things neat and orderly (which his Mom really enjoys). He is helpful to his parents at home who create a role for him to complete assist with safe and age appropriate household/ranching tasks on a daily basis. His room is very nice. He has picked Airplanes, Trains, and Firetruck Decor to hang in his room. Not only is the decor exquisite it also replicates real life objects. All of the items were personally selected by him. Alexander also is very outgoing and interested in new things. He will jump into new activities, he loves to travel, and his favorite thing to do is to go "Swim." Alexander is very protective of his younger sister Brielle who he calls 'Rielle.' He loves trains the most. Alexander can unscrew the Thomas Motorized Engines and examine how the trains work while also replacing their battery. Afterword he will then swap out the top of the car with other car trains he has to recreate a new look for the train. Once he has completed maintenance of his trains he will work on a master track. Alexander is an intellect. He prefers to do things on his own while discovering how things work, he thinks of creative ways to do things another way. Alexander's favorite places to visit are Crayola Experience and Lego at The Mall of America. Alexander has excellent fine motor, gross motor, and communication skills. He is a natural creative thinker and builder.
Alexander loves to jump on his trampoline, assist his father with light Ranch work, like filling the water tubs with water for the baby calves, ride bike, play tag with his sister, play with his sand table, recreate several different types of Train Tracks (as he has several different types of sets), ride his scooter, playing outdoors, sledding in the winter, swimming, going to new places, traveling, finger painting, playing board games, and building new things are a small glimpse of the many things Alexander loves to do.
Alexander struggles with Verbal Communication. Because he has a difficult time expressing himself, he often become frustrated. His mom is very attentive to his nonverbal communication. She will assist him daily with his tasks by talking, showing, and teaching Alex alternative ways to address several situations. Alexander has difficulty making new friends as his limited verbal communication is often misunderstood by young children his age.
From Alex's mom about having a child with autism:
"Alexander has made me feel very appreciative of my role as his mother. I appreciate that he allows me the chance to understand, learn, and assist. I also appreciate that he is very loving. Alexander has taught me so much as a parent and a professional so much things that I could never learn from a book, class, or training. I feel like I have also become very aware all types of communication, especially nonverbal communication. This has also helped me personally and professionally as I am also a Behavioral Health Specialist. I hold Alexander in a very high regard and everyone who knows us knows that we (parents) think the World of him. I cannot express how much I appreciate and love Alexander for teaching me new ways to view the world. I know understand the saying "Children with special talents will be the ones who will be doing part of the Teaching." I talk about Alexander and his diagnosis a lot. I talk about it not to gain sympathy, but to promote awareness along with acceptance. I also talk about him a lot because I am very proud to be his mother."
"I love being a part of coalitions, parent groups, and groups on social media. It is nice to hear from parents who can relate to your challenges. It also nice to hear from parents who mastery in specific areas who are able to assist with ideas to help. I also enjoy hearing about policy changes and be given updates from Coalitions on changes that will be made Administratively that will assist families like ours that are supportive in maintaining appropriate services. I think the following information will also be helpful to family, friends, and others who know someone has been recently diagnosed with Autism.
There are many other things looking back which I am eternally grateful for, and if you’re reading this and are a family member or a friend of a parent whose child has just received an autism diagnosis, take a minute and peruse. My husband and I were very fortunate with the way the people in our lives reacted- not all of my friends with autistic kids have been so lucky.
Don’t judge. You may not understand why your friend/family member is handling their child’s meltdown/insomnia/refusal to eat/obsession with lining everything up in the way they are. Trust me, they know better than anyone else what to do, and they know their child best. Only offer suggestions if they ask for them. Offer to help and mean it. Parents may be so overwhelmed they might not even know where to start asking for help. Give them time. They may need you to go on a doctor’s visit with them or watch their child while they take siblings to another appointment. They may just need to get out of their house for a few hours and take a break. Whatever they need, try to be there for them, and be there multiple times.
Offer to help with the siblings. Things can be very stressful after an initial autism diagnosis, and that can affect the child's brothers and sisters. Some one-on-one time with a sibling could really help.
Never compare their child to your second cousin’s neighbor’s high school sweetheart’s autistic kid. Autism comes in many shapes and sizes. Just because somebody’s kid talked at seven does not mean your friend’s kid will. Comparisons are odious…If your friend’s child has mild autism, don’t tell them he/she will grow out of it. Autism is a life-long neurological disorder- it’s for keeps. There are struggles and differences even for those on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. Respect that. Make them a meal. Random acts of kindness cheered up my family immensely in the months following our sons’ diagnoses. They were often the only bright spots in our day when dealing with meltdowns, sleeplessness, and mounds of paperwork for Early Intervention and school placements. Make the effort. If you know of anyone with an autistic child who might be a positive support for your friends, hook them up. The key word here is “positive.” They need someone to vent to, who may even have suggestions and referrals to services and people who can make their life easier. Just listen. Don’t share with your friend that your neurotypical child had sleeping/eating/behavioral issues too. Generally, in the world those issues don’t last for eighty years. You have no idea how long your friend/family member will be dealing with these challenges, and they are different than the ones your child is/was facing. Just be there as a sounding board."
"In this multifaceted world it can become challenging to Advocate for your child, but just know that there are many people who support you. There are also providers who want to hear from you and who also support you as a parent as well. The providers will need the plenty of feedback as it is a collaborative effort between that will help improve services. In my personal journey as a parent, provider, and Administrator I know we have a lot of work to do help improve services in our area for children and their families with Autism.
Make the decision to accept children with disabilities and teach your children how they can help children with autism by being a friend too.
If there is one thing I learned about friendship after my son was diagnosed with autism, it is that it can be very fragile. Being a friend during good times is easy. Yet it is during the difficult times that we learn who our real friends are. I am forever grateful to those friends and family members who supported our family after the diagnosis. They made a choice to accept my son for who he is and help us in any way they could. Making the choice to support a family affected by autism is one of the greatest gifts you can give. It is also very likely that your act of kindness may turn out to be one of the greatest gifts you receive back as well."