I am writing to you as a mother of two teenage boys who are on the autism spectrum in the hope my words will help you on your new and unexpected journey.
The first thing I implore you to remember is that your child is still the same little person you loved and adored before their diagnosis. To be honest with you, I found it extremely difficult to come to terms with the diagnosis of my eldest son, who is now sixteen. The huge disappointment and hurt I felt at this unwelcome turn of events meant that I struggled to connect as much with him as I had previously. His lack of affection had a big impact on me and I had to focus on showing him I loved him as it felt like everything was a daily struggle. Over time, this has improved greatly, but it wasn't as natural as I dreamed it would be.
Second, even though life can be busy and chaotic and you are feeling tired in a way you didn't think was possible, take time for yourself. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint and you need to put your oxygen mask on first so you are able to help others. Find a way to recharge your batteries and create as much calm as possible in your life. Say ‘no’ to some of the things you think you ‘should’ do and just allow yourself to be in the moment. In my book “This Was Not On the Brochure”, I dedicate a chapter to what I call the “Happiness Program” as I believe it's crucial for everyone, but especially parents of carers of children with additional needs.
Third, an important part of investing in you includes focusing on your emotional wellness. As an educator currently working in this area, all too often I see people who are literally at breaking point. Don't think you will be fine and that you don't have time for your personal growth, it needs to be an intentional area of focus and development. Being strong is great, but even the strongest person gets weary sometimes and needs help. Make a decision now to commit to your emotional wellness, the better you feel, the better everything will be. Trust me on this, I have experienced life both ways.
Finally, although your life has changed and you find yourself in a ‘new kind of normal’, know you are not alone. The ASPECT website mentions that there is a child diagnosed with autism every four hours in Australia, which mean there are plenty of other parents in the same boat as you. When our boys were diagnosed, there was no Facebook, social media or the awareness and support that is available today. Even still, we met other families in the early days that we are still friends with now. Your family and friends will be there for you as much as they can, but remember there are people out there who understand because they live with autism too. They can be a wonderful support and encouragement to you on your journey.
This World Autism Awareness Day, do something special for you and celebrate the difference you are making in your child's life. Remember, you are the world for your child.
About the Author: Jennifer Ratcliffe
- Author of This Was Not on the Brochure
- Co-author with husband, Brad Ratcliffe Keeping it Real | An A-Z Guide for Parents and Carers of Someone with Autism – available in April
- Co-creator with Brad Ratcliffe First and Then App
- President of Care & Share for Autism - www.careandshareforautism.com.au
- Emotional Wellness Educator and Creatrix® Faciltator
- Primary School Teacher
- Emotional Wellness with Jennifer Ratcliffe - www.facebook.com/JennRatcliffe/
- Jennifer Ratcliffe is a wife, mother and business woman - proving that you can live a great life despite what life throws at you! You can contact Jennifer here, read her Blog and find out more about families living with autism at her website www.jenniferratcliffe.org