About My Life:
My son, affectionately known as "Pootie," is 16, non-verbal, and lives with severe autism. I never dreamed after his diagnosis that my life would become so much happier because of his disability
Pootie is in high school and communicates with a hybrid system (including PECS, an ACC device, gestures, and a few signs.) His favorite things in life are girls, Chex Mix, swinging, snuggling, Mardi-Gras beads, tennis racquets, frappuccinos, Kanye West, and being outside. I have developed an engaged Instagram following (@geegexoxo) and have become a positive resource for families of people with disabilities. I have been inspired by the lack of positive media surrounding people living with autism to write an inspirational memoir, Black Cloud Nine, for which I am currently seeking representation.
(Disclaimer: My daughter coined the word "autis" when she was 6, and it has been used as a term of endearment ever since. It doesn't sound quite as harsh as "autistic"...and God knows we love a good nickname!)
I am honored to share some of my top tips for living a happy life with autism.
Tip #1: Make That Little Special One Look Fly
They may not care about their style, but the rest of the world notices. My son is always dressed like the typical kids (maybe even better), and I never let the hygiene slide. He walks into school with his collars popped, the latest Adidas, hair gel, and cologne. By default, it has given him loads of confidence. Life is challenging enough for our kids; give them an advantage.
Tip #2: Melatonin Supplements Are Your New Best Friend
Many kids on the spectrum struggle with sleep disorders. This struggle is due to lower levels of Melatonin production. My son struggled to fall asleep every single night until we started Melatonin supplements. The hardest part about autism in the earlier years was dealing with this intense level of parenting while being exhausted. When he became older, our Psychiatrist added a sleeping pill to his regime to keep him asleep for the entire night. Get help. Talk to your doctor about the right dosage. Your life is crazy...at least get some sleep!
Tip #3: Get That Child Out Of The House
Nobody wants to be with their mommy 24/7...even your clingy special will grow to enjoy other caregivers. We all need to form bonds and learn from others, and God knows mama needs a break! Get your child involved in activities (outside of school) and find qualified sitters/respite care. My priority is getting help during the daytime on the weekends. I used to get Saturday night sitters, but by the time they showed up, I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed. This respite also keeps my son occupied seven days a week. Weekends feel ten times longer without some help!
Tip #4: If You Constantly Tell Your Child No....
...they will wind up resenting you, and you’ll lose your mind in the process. How depressing would it be if someone constantly told you that everything you were doing was wrong? My typical daughter is awful at algebra, but I don’t force her to work on equations 24/7. Structured environments and therapy goals are essential, but choose your battles and give that baby a break sometimes...and don’t forget to celebrate them for who they are and what they bring to the table.
Tip #5: Haters Gonna Hate
Relieve yourself from the worry of what others think; that’s a shift that you don’t need to work. Don’t dwell on what some judgemental jerk (who you’ll probably never see again,) thinks about your child acting a little nutty at Target. The most liberating gift that you can give yourself is learning to not care about other people's opinions.
Tip #6: Sensory Sensation
Convert your child’s bedroom into a sensory sensation! (Tailor this to your child’s needs and safety concerns). Fill the room with mini-trampolines, therapy balls, sensory toys, swings, and ENO hammocks. (If needed, you can un-clip the swings at night and remove the trampoline). Create a safe space free from breakables, (lamps, frames on the wall, even furniture) leaving only a bed and sensory delights that give them the sensory experiences that they crave. All the kids, even the teens, are jealous of my son's ballin' room.
Tip #7: If You Are In Denial, Get Out Of It
It’s only hurting your child. Your child needs services and support for the best possible outcome. It is what it is. Burying your head in the sand will not make it go away. People are born with autism and die with it...but there’s tremendous progress that will be made along the way. As crazy as it sounds, my life is 1,000 times happier since autism became a part of it. (Although, it took a minute to get to this place!) Acceptance is the key to happiness. Accept what you can’t change, then roll your sleeves up and do your best to help your child to succeed. It’s all that you can do...the rest is in God’s hands.
Tip #8: #WorshipAndPraise
My son, who is non-verbal and has severe autism, thinks that he’s some kind of movie star. He is loved exactly for who he is, not who I thought he was going to be. We have taught him how to love others by showering him with praise and affection. As a result, he’s affectionate, bossy, confident, and cocky as hell...which is extremely entertaining.
Tip #9: Go Get A Milkshake
It works EVERY TIME for de-escalating some crappy moods and tricky situations. Every child on the planet (with autism or not) is content with the vestibular movement of a car ride, listening to Migos, and drinking a Frappuccino. Your sanity is so worth three bucks.
Tip #10: Track Down That Special
None of this matters if your child goes missing. My son wears a tracker bracelet, which gives me major peace of mind. Verbal or non-verbal, any child with cognitive challenges needs this level of security. I am always amazed by how many children with autism do not wear these. You chip your dog, you alarm your home, why on earth would you not protect the most valuable thing in your life?
BONUS TIP: Force Some Sibling Love
I was always curious as to why children with autism bond with adults so much easier than other children. After researching, I found the reason: adults are the keepers of all good things. They have access to the comfort items, food, toys, and stim objects that our children would kill for. I decided to let my daughter be in charge of my son's reinforcers. If he cried, she was the one to deliver the pacifier or bottle. If he was hungry, she gave him the snack. If he wanted to go outside, she opened the door. It took a while, but he soon realized that she was valuable in his life. The relationship that he developed with his sister taught him how to love others and how to play. She was his best little teacher and best friend.