Often it’s said that people with autism don’t smile and don’t understand emotions. We know that to just not be true.
Something people always tell us about our son is, “He has an awesome smile!” Really we don’t need to be told that. It's great they see the same things we do. He does have an awesome smile. He also has this infectious laughter and beautiful sense of humor too.
We have four children. Ranging in age from 17 to 5. Our third child Hunter was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. Deep down I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis because all the research had been bringing up the same diagnosis. At the time it was really hard for my husband to accept. I accepted the diagnosis easier. Probably because I poured myself and all my energy into finding quality therapy.
We were afraid of what the future would be like for our child. We had huge dreams for our son. With therapy and support of family and friends we finally realized that he still had an awesome future. We know he will do great things and affect many people in positive ways around him. Of that we have no doubt.
This last week end we played with water balloons. Our son had such fun and found humor in the whole game. Even making sure to get mommy because he quickly realized I was trying to stay dry. Already he has been asking, “Can we buy more water balloons?” and of course we will. It’s just great to see our son participate in an activity. It lets us see how far we’ve come. Really how far he has come!
In kindergarten he moved to a new elementary school. I was so worried that he might be bullied or not thrive in a new school. My worry was unfounded. He went into kindergarten and while he struggled academically he made friends and was able to interact with the other children. At one point we actually had to make sure the other kids let him try to do things on his own. I never would have thought that would be a concern that would happen.
Some things Hunter has loved doing for therapy has been equine (horse) therapy, extra speech therapy, and physical therapy as well. Hunter really showed his personality in equine therapy. Even showing off his skills when other kids were participating. When thinking of therapy make sure the people providing the service are trained and properly accredited.
Something else that helped him was social stories. Social stories visually explain a task or skill that need to be learned. We made a social story we could read on the IPad together for potty training. I saw a need for him to understand how to play with other children, and I created a play interaction story. I even made it my entire thesis project. It was just what he needed. Even though he still struggles from time to time with pushing or shoving he is doing so well and making lots of friends.
Yes, my son is academically behind but he can do so much. He is not bound by his Individual Education Program (IEP) to define who he is. Hunter visually excels and can do amazing things. If we have learned anything from these last few years? We must believe he can do great things. We see Hunter for what Hunter can do. We have taken great value in not comparing him with others.
He is his own person and every week surprises us with new achievements in areas we were once told he might not ever be able to do. I wouldn’t be shocked if someday he’s designing rockets or cars. My advice to parents on this journey is to seek out all therapy options. Do what works for your child. Also work with your pediatrician and therapist to create a great individual plan for your child.
Be your child’s advocate and never give up on them. Every child is unique and can do great things if we look at them as the person they are verses what everyone expects them to be. In our society that can be hard to do. I truly I believe each child is awesome. Hunter is awesome and your child is awesome too!
Rebecca Batdorf is an author living with her family in Indiana. She is married with 4 children. She is a recent graduate from Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) with a degree in visual communication with a concentration in graphic design. For her thesis she created visual social stories for her son with autism. You can preview her social stories here, and buy Let’s Play on Amazon.