Parents, remember the excitement, joy and sheer terror we faced when we brought home our new little bundles from the hospital? No matter boy or girl, twins or more, the second you walk through the door you start to worry. WORRY, about everything! Is she breathing? Is he eating enough? One blanket, no blanket? Does anyone really know how to do this whole parenting thing?!?
Usually after a few weeks (OK, maybe months) things start to settle into a daily routine. But wait, who said anything about walking? The worry and panic start all over again!
But what about parenting an autistic child?
As a mom of three daughters, I know that worry comes with the job of being a parent. I also happen to know the worry that comes from parenting children with autism. Sometimes I think the diagnosis was the easy part. Yes, it was overwhelming to learn that two of my three children will be autistic for the rest of their lives.
For me, the diagnosis was black and white. Everything was spelled out in books, by doctors and by parents who had already experienced autism firsthand. I was able to find a lot of wonderful resources explaining autism. Oh, as you may already know, I am also autistic. My autism helped and continues to help me understand my daughters and their thoughts and behaviors.
There is one tiny problem, I AM AUTISTIC. This means that I think the way my daughters think. Which is why I want to keep them safe from the dangers of this world. The dangers that I often didn’t realize were dangerous until it was too late.
The autistic are very trusting.
Many people on the spectrum are extremely trusting. It often doesn’t occur that something or someone might not be safe. Often those on the spectrum, assume that if a person smiles or is nice to them, then that person is safe. It is hard to read facial expressions and body language when you are autistic. What may seem like a safe person to someone on the spectrum, may not be a safe person to those that are typical.
This also goes for unsafe and dangerous situations. Often, persons on the spectrum see life in black and white. To most of us, things are the way they seem. If a party looks like fun, it must be safe. If that stranger in a car looks nice, he must be safe. I really don’t mean to be a panic peddler. Unfortunately, from my own experience, autistic individuals are too trusting. We are easily swayed. We desperately want to be accepted and liked. We will do things that are not safe because we do not understand the consequences.
We are easily lured into a false sense of safety. This doesn’t only apply to children, adults on the spectrum are also susceptible to being lulled into a false sense of security. I am living proof that high functioning autistic individuals get themselves into unsafe situations. I have fallen prey to those who took advantage of my trustworthiness and naivety.
Teach important safety rules.
Don’t panic! Try taking some of these precautions to reduce your worry and make sure your child remains safe:
- I always make sure the school designates one safe school professional (social worker, teacher, principal) for my daughters to go to if they have a problem. This relationship should be someone your child feels comfortable talking to.
- Second, you can make your own social stories relating to specific situations. These can be related to neighborhood safety, bus safety or whatever meets your child’s individual needs.
- You should also talk to your child in plain, easily understood language. It is important not to frighten your children, but you need to make sure they understand the importance of safety.
- Make sure you explain that police officers are helpers. You can now buy GPS devices that can locate your child if necessary or try programs like If I Need Help.
- If possible, teach your child addresses and phone numbers of relatives. Remember that autistic individuals, especially children, do often wander off. Make sure your children are aware of their surroundings.
- Alert school staff, police and fire departments and anyone your child spends time with that your child is on the autism spectrum.
- There are some great bracelets and necklaces that also alert people of your son or daughter’s autism. When you are in crowded areas, it is a good idea to write your cell phone number on your child’s hand.
Even though the world can be scary, it is also full of wonderful experiences. Trust your instincts and don’t let your fear overwhelm you or your child.