I have the wonderful privilege of serving Houston families and their children diagnosed with autism and learning differences. The circumstances surrounding our meetings usually involve their child’s recent diagnosis of autism. Parents attend aba therapy sessions, and are often in crisis about their child’s condition. Parents seek out applied behavioral therapies with the hopes that their child will recover, and grow up to have a “normal” life. Some of the first questions parents ask are these:
How long will my child require aba therapy?
When will my child be able to attend a normal school?
Time and again parents seek out reassurance that their child’s symptoms will subside quickly. Having been in their shoes, I can hardly blame their panic, and questions about a potential end to their child’s condition.
I too asked the developmental pediatrician who diagnosed my child: “What will PDD-NOS look like as my son gets older?” I too asked: “Will my child be able to attend a typical school?” Like so many of my clients, I sat in dismay as the pediatrician responded that he did not know what my son would look like as he got older, and that he did not know if he would be able to attend a normal school. In those moments I felt completely in the dark, but looking back I realize it was the absolute best thing the pediatrician could have told me.
As a parent some of the hardest feelings to manage are powerlessness and uncertainty surrounding our children. Years ago the pediatrician did not give me answers. I was left with a helpless sense of not knowing. My son’s future was left as a huge blank, with nothing to fill in. I was powerless to know what my son’s outcome would be.
As a behavior analyst I am unable to provide parents with absolutes in predicting their child’s growth and learning. Like the pediatrician, I do not know how long my clients will require behavioral supports or whether they will have success in a typical school. I cannot predict that my clients will develop meaningful relationships with peers. I cannot predict if they will learn to participate in organized sports, or ultimately attend college. Parents can choose to be alarmed by the uncertainty of what is too come, or they can hold on with hopeful anticipation of what might fill in the blank, of their child’s story.
It has been my experience that the pediatrician who diagnosed my child could have never predicted that he would end up in a mainstream classroom, at Stratford High School. It is also my experience that the pediatrician could have never predicted that my son would be ranked as the top 50th basketball player in the state of Texas, in the class of 2018. The pediatrician could have never predicted that my son would voluntarily give me bear hugs and tell silly jokes that make us laugh. As it turns out, leaving my son’s story unfinished also left us wide open to many possibilities that were unimaginable. We work continue to work hard to assist my son to fill in the “blank”, and it appears that he is just getting started!
I often challenge parents to take a deep breath. I reassure parents that not knowing what is going to happen may not be the worst thing. I often remind parents that children are resilient, and that learning is happening all of the time (even when you least expect). I encourage parents to consider their child’s progress, no matter how small. I encourage parents to be patient, and to be open to new possibilities for their child. I tell parents that their child may teach them a thing or two, after it is all said and done.
My deepest wish is that parents read this article and remain hopeful. I am a behavior analyst, but my first priority is that of a parent. I encourage my fellow parents to get ready! For I truly believe the best is yet to come! I would love to meet you and your child. Please call and make an appointment at the Tarnow Center today!