I am so thankful to my friend, for taking the time to answer some questions for me, and in doing that, we can all get a peek behind the scenes of a special needs and invisible disability home.
Q. Tell me about the special needs in your home.
A. We have many special needs in our home. We have a teenager with high functioning autism and a couple of kids with anxiety/sensory issues.
Q. Give us some examples of the challenges those diagnoses pose.
A. “We have food issues, sensory issues and behavioral issues. Our teen has an autism spectrum disorder. There are behavioral issues involved as well basic, personal care issues. There are lots of people with oral sensory issues makes it hard for us to try new meals in our house. We often have the same meals weekly. I usually try to introduce or reintroduce new foods on a weekly basis to the kids who are “picky eaters” so that they can possibly expand their tastes and find new foods they can enjoy”.
“It is hard for us to go to new or loud and crowded places because this kind of situation can set off anxiety attacks and bother sensitive hearing. We find that preparing these kids can be very helpful. We can explain what we will see and hear in this new place and if possible, find pictures and YouTube videos to show them what the place will be like. We often bring a sensory blanket and headphones to help block the sound.”
“It is good to have a general routine to their day because one of my teenagers thrives on routine. When we are out of our routine, this can set off behavior issues for him.”
“We also have to make sure when we go to a new place, what kind of animals will be there and what type of foods they will have. If I am around certain kinds of animals, I may end up in the hospital with an asthma attack. We have food allergies that can make a couple of us sick.”
Q. What are some things you wish others knew about caretaking a child with autism or sensory and anxiety issues?
A. ” I wish people understood that my kids can not help being the way they are. They were born this way and they can’t just change that. For example, I will not force them to eat something that would make them feel sick because of taste or texture. We can provide opportunities to try new things but these children and teens need to be able to choose whether or not it is something they can do..and if they want to try this new situation, food or opportunity, then we need to be there to support them and help them go at their own pace.”
Q. What are some blessings you have noticed from having the children that you do?
A. “I feel like I have gotten to meet a lot of people I wouldn’t have normally gotten to because of my autistic teenager. He is very friendly and because of that, he brings special people into our lives that we might have never met. I think I have become more patient and less about discipline. If you can work with your children on the problem, in most situations, things won’t escalate to where you need to use disciplinary actions.”
For me, the take-away from this interview is a reminder to myself and others, to be slow to judge the children we come in contact with or observe. Kids with autism spectrum and sensory disorders appear “neurotypical.” We don’t know what they struggle with. Our molehills are mountains to them and it takes them a lot to do what take us a little. I want to always remember to look at children with kindness. Just because I can’t see their battle, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.