I wrote earlier this week about some of the challenges that come with being a parent of a child with autism – and promised a lighter post later that focuses more on the positive aspects that come from the experience as well. I can honestly say that even with the challenges that come with Autism, having Stone as my son is so incredibly awesome and rewarding, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. He is a really fun and funny boy – and so smart. He has nailed down the shit-eating grin and loves anything that involves laughing and fun. I couldn’t even tell you the last time he’s had a bad day – or even a tantrum. The worst behavior we see from him is a little crankiness if/when he’s denied some of his favorite cravings – such as ice cream or cookies. Even then, it’s pretty tame and easy to manage, especially compared to tantrums I’ve seen (and heard of) other children having.
Of course, everything in life is a matter of perspective. And I don’t think any of us want to go through it consciously comparing our plight to others. But it does happen – and I think it’s kind of natural to occasionally have a sense of extra gratitude (or resentment) when you contrast your situation with others. Parents of children with Autism are certainly no different. We can (and do) empathize and sympathize with each other and the difficult journey we all face in our own situations. Talking with each other we learn how easy (or hard) we have it – depending on which end of the spectrum our children reside. Some parents are still trying to teach their 9 year old to use a toilet properly while others are integrating kids into scouting programs or other “neurotypical” activities. Not every child with Autism has such severe verbal communication challenges as Stone – many can speak quite well, but have social difficulties. It’s really all over the map.
But there does seem to be one constant with each child (and parent) when it comes to Autism and development: progress almost always comes in the form of small victories. And I have certainly learned how to look for, recognize and cherish each and every small victory we witness with Stone. Because we know that each step brings him that much closer to the point we’re all striving for: the time when he can communicate his needs (and hopefully someday, his feelings too) clearly on his own – as well as the ability to take care of himself.
So what are some of these small steps we’ve seen in Stone recently? Here is a list of some of his recent accomplishments (and why they’re significant to me):
- Greater interaction with Ty. It’s far more common to see them engage in a game of chase/tag around the house (or playground) than it was in the past. Stone clearly loves Ty and loves to give him playful swats at times (Ty is such a good brother, he usually just lets Stone do this without a fuss).
- He can fasten his own seatbelt. This is a recent (past 2 weeks) accomplishment. For far too long I think we got used to buckling him into his seat and assuming it would be too challenging for him. But after focusing on it for only a couple of days, he picked it up and now does it on his own without a problem. Of course, the “funny” side of him also likes to unbuckle the seat belt at times while we’re out and about, but that’s another matter.
- Helping me find and clean up Brodie’s dog poop. I was on “poop patrol” in the backyard last weekend and Stone made a point out of leading me to one of Brodie’s latest creations (which I had missed). This is important on two levels: 1) it wasn’t long ago that Stone would have preferred to somehow play with the poop (yes, gross I know) and 2) he went out of his way to help me with something that didn’t have any clear benefit for him. This type of “giving” is important in relationship-building.
- He’s showing interest in books. While he still can’t (or won’t) sit down and read a full book like most kids, he now picks out books on his own at times and flips through them on his own. His favorites are music books, as he loves music notes. His ABA tutor has also been working with him to identify words and short phrases on flash cards, and he’s been doing great at the exercise. We’re pretty convinced that he has begun to “sight read” at some level and doesn’t just recognize a bunch of letters strung together consistently. Very exciting stuff!
- Slowly but surely, we’re seeing his vocabulary continue to build as he tries to say new words. His recent new favorites have been outside, upstairs/downstairs, bedroom and cuddle (among others).
- Showing interest in TV shows/videos OTHER than Little Einsteins. Stone has started watching the screen more as we play Wii games (especially Mario Kart Racing) and he gets very excited at times. Typically Ty likes to study videos on YouTube that feature video games (so he can learn tricks and short cuts). Traditionally Stone has only wanted to watch Little Einstein clips on the iPad, but the other day he was actually watching different Mario Kart Racing clips on YouTube (much to Ty’s chagrin).
- Better understanding of computers and technology. Stone can now sit at a PC and use a mouse to click and navigate around his favorite website (Little Einsteins games and activities of course!). Again, it wasn’t very long ago he had to ask us to navigate through the site (he would try to show what he wanted). Now he does it on his own and is becoming quite proficient with the mouse. I’m confident that we’ll be able to show him how to use the keyboard soon too.
- Sleeping through the night (and falling back asleep after waking up). Yes, I’ve written a lot about our sleep challenges and issues with Stone so this is a big deal. There have now been numerous mornings when he has woken up between 5-6:30 am – and then fallen back asleep for another hour or two. This is unprecedented and obviously a huge relief and bonus for me!
So those are but a few examples of areas of progress we’ve seen with Stone. I’ll try to do a better job moving forward of making notes when I see or notice an area of improvement because they are important to recognize and celebrate. Collectively they all show how far Stone has come – and how much potential he has for the future as well.