Moms post about protecting their babies often, but I don’t believe I truly understood that mamma bear feeling until I had a cub of my own. As a teacher, I’ve seen many parents advocating for their children’s success. I’m always happy to see parents involved in their child’s education, because it makes a big difference. As a mommy, I know I want to be certain that Lydia will always have the help she needs when it comes to her education and well being. It’s important to prepare our children as best we can and to look out for their interests.
I’ve been able to observe other mommies making strides for their children. Recently I asked two of them to answer a few of the questions I had about what they’ve had to or have been doing. I’d like to share my questions and their responses below. Hopefully it will inspire you or simply remind you of the struggles and blessing mommies go through, and that of course it’s always worth it ❤
My Interviews with Advocating Mommies:
I sent the first set of questions to Miranda and I’m so grateful that she shared her answers and thoughts with me. I hope that you will be inspired by her as well.
- When did you learn that Vincent had Autism?
Officially, we just got the diagnosis a little over a month ago. We had some idea from early on. I wasn’t necessarily sure it was Autism the entire time, but I knew he was different from other children his age. Just a few examples: He sorted by color by 9 months, but was fastidious to the point of it interfering with his daily life. He talked early, but had trouble using his language to communicate. He built a functioning ramp to try to get out of his play area at 11 months (he didn’t have enough materials to make it high enough-it’s okay to laugh), but had sensory troubles that impeded typical development. He walked early, but never crawled. He wasn’t interested in other children for a long time (now he has friends).
- What was your initial reaction and what did you do?
It was more of a slow process than a sudden revelation so when the doctor gave us the diagnosis I wasn’t surprised. He had been getting services (Speech, PT, OT and special ed within an integrated classroom) for a while because we had him evaluated for his sensory issues first. Getting the diagnosis didn’t change who he is, it just meant he was guaranteed the help he will need to be successful. I was a tiny bit relieved to have it on a piece of paper since it took a long time to go through the process. Our next step will be working with a service coordinator. Vincent’s in a preschool where he gets all of his services now. The service coordination will come more into play as he enters grade school, gets a job, goes to college, etc.
- How has Autism impacted your daily life as a mom?
The actual word/diagnosis hasn’t had a huge impact. Raising any child requires a lot of creativity, patience and love. Raising a neuro-atypical child is a hard thing to describe to people who don’t live it. I can’t possibly be thorough enough in this one paragraph, but I’ll give a few small examples. I have to know the difference between a symptom and a behavior and between can’t and won’t. That can be tough and they are important distinctions. My actions have to depend on whether he is being a typical four year old boy or if the situation is a result of sensory or Autism symptoms. Transitions are not smooth so I have to leave a lot of time to get him ready to go anywhere, including school every day. There is a lot of teaching coping skills and life coaching. I’m learning and reading constantly. The knowledge has helped a lot.
- How have you had to become more involved in Vincent’s school life? Why is it important to you?
Vincent is only four so he started school with special services. I’ve been involved from the start. I am in communication with his service providers and teachers. I attend CSE meetings and advocate for his needs. It’s important for a lot of reasons, but mostly because my involvement will help him be successful in the future, however Vincent decides to define success.
- What would you like people outside of your family to know?
Depending on the case, many people with Autism can live full lives and be contributing members of society. Vincent is one of those. Also, if you see a child with Autism, remember that you’re only getting a snapshot. They could be having a good or bad day. I get a lot of comments about how “mild” Vincent’s Autism must be because, most of the time, he works really hard to be on his best behavior for company or in public, but that doesn’t make his struggles less real or serious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that he’s able to learn coping skills and figure out how to function in spite of his challenges because not all people with Autism have that ability. On the other side of that, if someone were to only see him on his worst/most symptom filled day, they would probably assume he has severe Autism and can’t function.
- What advice would you give another mom whose child has Autism?
First of all, remember that it’s just a word. It only holds as much power as you give it. Second-don’t panic, there is some great support out there. Get into a group for parents of children with autism. I participate in one on facebook. I get perspective, great ideas, and find out about events in my area. Autism is an umbrella term, so getting help that is specific to your child (even just advice on what books to read, what goals to put in an IEP, or services to sign up for) is priceless.
- What challenges do you face?
Again, this is a tough one to reduce to words on a page without trivializing it. For me personally, knowing what he needs and securing it for him (i.e. services, person with disability status) in addition to constantly having to advocate can be a lot. With Vincent, it’s just a lot of being patient and understanding that things rarely go as quick or as smooth as you hope. Emotionally, it is draining to know how hard life is for him and work toward empowering him instead of trying to just “fix” it for him all the time. I joke that there’s little part of my brain that wants to wrap him in a cocoon of love and not make him face the world. Fortunately, the rational part, that understands that isn’t what is best for him, prevails and teaches him skills to be confident and independent and that the world won’t end if something goes wrong/not his way.
- What blessings have you found?
So many! Vincent LOVES his baby sister. She has been really good for him. Vincent is sweet and charming and even with all of his challenges, he loves life. You can’t teach that. The way our brains are wired makes us who and what we are. Vincent’s wiring means he has autism and sensory problems, but it also means he has some interesting talents thanks to the way he sees and interacts with the world. I already have people talking at me about how great he’d be at architecture or engineering. It’s nice to hear, but I think for now, I’ll worry about getting him to integrated Kindergarten and let him play 🙂
I’m very thankful for Miranda’s time and honesty in answering these questions.
For the second group of questions, this mommy has chosen to stay anonymous. I hope that you will find her thoughts just as inspiring and helpful! I know I appreciated the thought and time she put into talking about her son.
1. What’s the most important thing that you think about when it comes to your kids?
It’s tough to pin this down to one thing. Words that immediately pop into my head are happiness, health, safety, emotional confidence, independent life long learner, a contributor to his community… If I had to pick one thing, happiness would be the top layer to everything else.
2. What would you want others to see in your kids?
My most proud moments as a mother, are when other people seek me out to tell me what a kind, caring and considerate son I have.
3. When it’s come to getting your child the help he needs, what have been your approaches in school? Outside of school?
As soon as you notice your child is not meeting the typical milestones, you begin advocating for him. This happens well before school years. Before school even begins, the parents need to work as a team with doctor’s, the county, and family members to make sure their child receives the services he needs. By the age of two, my son was receiving speech and occupational therapy, as well as other services. Once in school, parents need to continue advocating to make sure their child gets appropriate support services.
4. What challenges have you faced as a working mom?
Besides the normal challenges of being a working mom, having a son with special needs requires more energy and time when you get home from work. Whether it be special stretching exercises or exercises to strengthen the eye muscles, it can be exhausting. Even simple tasks are difficult for your at needs child and homework is a nightmare. An assignment that may take an average child 10 minutes to do, takes over an hour most times. This has a lot to do with his frustration levels and being so tired from working above his ability level during the regular school day. After a long day at school, it almost seems unfair to give a child who struggles in school any kind of homework. There have been many nights in elementary school when homework has taken over two hours and it just makes you feel so bad for your child because you know most other children were done in less than 20 minutes.
5. What are you most proud of?
How far my son has come academically. If you asked me when he was five, I was sure he would never be able to read. He works very hard in school, advocates for himself and with academic support, he is on the honor roll. He is not a strong reader or writer, but has far exceeded our expectations in school. This is a result of both parents and teachers advocating for a child from an early age.
6. If you knew a mom/dad who had a child with a learning disability or who was struggling, what advice would you give her?
Keep a record of every consult, appointment, concern that you have from the day they are born. There is so much that happens, that I have to constantly go back and look at my timeline. I have a seven page document that covers the first ten years.
Mommies always have so much on their plates and our to-do lists are longer than Santa’s naughty and nice list, but mommies love and find the time to fight for their babies and that is what makes us special … that’s what will give our children their best chance.