Autism and Happiness
When my son was little I worried about everything. Was I helping him to develop enough? Was I leaving him to play on his own too much? Was I spending too much time interacting with him? Was he spending too much time with other kids, or not enough?
I was worried that if I didn’t help him enough he would show more autistic behaviours. I felt like his future was my responsibility. I learned Makaton (a form of sign language which is very helpful for kids who are struggling with speech), used photos to help him understand what was going on, spent hours encouraging him to paint, rather than just stirring the paint. I read to him, talked to him all of the time and tried my hardest to help him to interact.
That was all very good and I am certain that it really helped his development, but I was missing one fundamental truth, that I wish I had known back then.
Children with autism grow up. They become adults with autism.
I knew that he would not grow out of autism. I didn’t have any illusions about that, but I still didn’t really understand it.
I imagined that without constant support he would stay as he was. A non-verbal chap that didn’t appear to need people. And his future would be bleak. If I couldn’t help him to develop as much as possible I had failed him.
But that isn’t the case. Everything changes. Children all develop. Some children develop more than others, and in different areas, but they still develop.
Without any support, he would still change. So any support I could give him would help his development. I was looking at the situation the wrong way around.
Anything that I could do to help him develop would be good. If I did more or less of something, that’s fine. Kids develop best with calm happy parents. A mum who is constantly stressed that she isn’t doing enough is no good for anyone. Helping the child to develop in a way that you both enjoy is the best way to support any child — autistic or not.
Kids develop best when they are happy. We know this — just look at history. Beating kids to teach them things didn’t work. It taught them what to say, but didn't mean they understood it. A happy child will be able to learn at their own pace.
I wish I had known back then that the best I could do was good enough.
I wish I had known that pushing myself or pushing my son was pointless.
I wish I had known that he could be happy, whether I helped him or not.
I am glad that I supported him as much as I did. I really believe it helped him; he can problem solve, understand and communicate very well as a result. In fact, he is an amazing young man with a wicked sense of humour, who never ceases to amaze me with the things he can comprehend. But that doesn’t make him happy. It doesn’t make him unhappy either. How happy/content/satisfied he is has nothing to do with his development. An adult who watches Teletubbies and communicates in signs is not necessarily less happy than an adult who watches Shakespeare plays and writes science journals.
Developing skills like communication and cognition gives a person more choices in life, and generally choices are good. But it does not make the person happy. And that is what is most important.