Love. It’s a word some of us sometimes try to avoid. But as the parent of a child with autism, I try to make it a part of everything I do. Love is the main driving force of surviving the trials and tribulations that being the parent of a child with autism can often bring.
Loving yourself is very important. Harrison was really good at detecting if I wasn’t feeling good about myself, so I wanted to set a good example. I tried doing this by always taking a little “me” time out of each day for something I enjoyed doing. I could tell if I didn’t do this; I quickly got “burnt out”. We need this time to recharge ourselves considering the emotional rollercoaster our lives can be. Even if it meant staying up a little later than everybody else, it’s important to me because the resulting “overflow” of love went towards my children, and that’s when special things and situations happened.
Loving your children is vital. I know there are times when it may seem difficult, especially during the “meltdowns” or when they just go off by themselves. We have to love our children during the times that aren’t as good because it makes loving them during the “good times” much better and special. And we can’t limit ourselves. We need to show our children that we love them anytime and anywhere and be open to any situation. I remember a coworker, when I told him my wife and I were expecting our first child, looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Love your children. And you make sure they know it.”
Harrison did respond to the love my wife and I showed him. It took awhile, but he started to show it. It may have been hugs or a few minutes of cuddling, and I was even happy with the slightest of smiles. But as time went on, Harrison started showing us love more and more, and he even started to show his understanding of what it meant. There was one evening I remember when he really showed his love for us. The day didn’t start out well. Harrison was having one of those “behaviorally difficult” days. Nothing was going well at all. My wife and I were sitting on the floor to his bedroom, exhausted and exasperated. We were just thankful we almost made it through the day. Harrison came running into the room, looked us and said, “Oh, I love you Mommy and Daddy,” and went running back out. That was a word he had never said before that day; it was a word that we had waited so long to hear, and it seemed like Harrison knew it because the timing was perfect. My wife and I just started crying from such an outpouring of emotions. Later that night, we had Harrison in bed and was reading him books. My wife was about eight months pregnant at the time, and we were wondering if Harrison understood it. Between books, Harrison suddenly cuddled into my wife’s stomach and said, “Oh, I love you baby, little brother.” Keep showing your children as much love as you can because if they haven’t yet, they will show it in their own way.
Autism affects the whole family. I’ve always tried to show my entire family love, but siblings can often feel left out because of all the necessary attention being spent on the child with autism. I always try to think of different ways to give Harrison’s little brother (Isaac) special time. We’ve spent many times devouring hot fudge sundaes, going to the park, or just playing games at home. One of these days, I’ll figure out a way to beat him at Wii bowling. But there have been times when we had to take Harrison to one of his therapy sessions, and Isaac would say, “Daddy, why can’t we just stay home?” It’s difficult to hear that, and it drives me to make our times together that much more special.
It’s also been difficult with my wife at times. Raising a child with autism can be so emotionally draining that when the children are in bed, there’s little left to give. There are so many ways to show your spouse that you love them, even when your emotions are drained to nearly empty. For me, the best way is my time. I try to give my wife a little time at the end of the day, even if it’s just a few minutes. Or, on occasion, I could leave her a little note before going to work in the morning. But what I think she wants the most is a little of my time just talking and showing her that even though I seem like a “walking zombie,” I still love her. We also use our parents, who are always willing to watch our children to give us a date night, even if it’s going for a coffee, to a nice restaurant, or even a quiet evening at home while the children are at “grandma and grandpa’s house”. Time alone with your spouse is the most important thing.
Love is just so, so important in our lives. I truly believe that love is the glue that holds the autism family together. If the glue gives way, then so does the family, so I try to keep it as much a part of everything we do together.