When I learned Matthew was diagnosed as autistic many thoughts and concerns occupied my mind and I was not sure what I should do initially as I was trying to first understand what autism is and how it affects my son. The first thing I learned in my need to investigate and understand autism was that most autistic children have difficulties with making eye contact. We realized this as young parents and it was my wife who noticed this and was not sure why Matthew seemed nonresponsive to her words and not able to make a connection with her. It was traumatic for Maria because she felt she was not properly mothering him and felt very sad and depressed about it. We spent many nights talking together and I tried my best to explain to her that it has nothing to do with her and that she has to get past her feelings and to try to just nurture and keep talking reassuringly and give him all the love and time he needs. I also told her that on the weekends I would help with his feedings and allow her some alone time as I recognized this was very important and I had to also take an active role in his care. I remember trying to find ways to elicit a response from Matthew by playing soothing sounds from my cd collection of natures landscapes. I remember playing tracks of the ocean waves against the shore, the sounds of gentle rain against the leaves and the sounds of birds chirping in the early morning. This seemed to relax him and I felt it was good to introduce different sounds and sensations to him. With autism it seems children have to shut down their senses at times because there is far to much stimuli and they can not cope and this results in the child reacting out by screaming and getting very obstinate. This is typically known as a tantrum. We have gone through many tantrums with our son and they can happen anywhere and at anytime. In understanding an autistic child you have to try to help them through this tantrum and try to penetrate their world as this is happening which is not an easy task. Sometimes it is very easy to get discouraged and to react in an inappropriate way. The first thing you learn when your child is going through a difficult time is to try to maintain calmness and to try to be in control of the situation. Autistic children tend to be very repetitive in their behavior and a break in their normal routine can cause such stress that they will lose it and have a very bad tantrum or a meltdown. We have seen this type of behavior with our son many many times and we have to work to try to keep Matthew on an even keel and try to keep things as much the same for him as we can. We also have to reinforce routines that he needs to follow as normal children do. Matthew has exhibited repetitive behavior like most autistic children. I remember when I was a kid I loved playing with my matchbox and hotwheels cars and spent a good part of my childhood with those cars. Naturally when my son was born I started a collection of matchbox and hotwheels cars and also boxed sets of baseball cards for him so when he was ready he could play with them as I did. As he grew and started to play with his cars he had arranged them by color on some days. On other days he would arrange his cars by type and on other days he would arrange his cars by size. I remember our livingroom would look like a parking lot. It was quite a site to see hundreds of cars lined up so perfectly. This obviously is a tell tale sign of autism. Matthew could spend hours at a time lining up his cars. Naturally knowing his situation I would tell him how wonderful his arrangement looked and admire it along with him. I always remember my mom and dad encouraging me and I know that is very important in promoting self esteem and autistic children always need reinforcement and encouragement. My son’s interest in cars went beyond the livingroom and I remember when he was 2 years old he could name the make and model of just about any car you pointed to on the street or highway. It didn’t matter if it was at home or at a relative’s house in New Jersey or upstate New York or a friend’s house in Coram, NY. You pointed out a car to him and he would know the make and model of the car about 95 % of the time. It really amazed us and many others. Autistic children on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s are usually high functioning and they have seemingly amazing abilities though they follow repetive patterns and have very poor social skills. Our son falls into this part of the autistic spectrum. As I researched and learned more about autism I realized that like anything else there are positives and negatives and we decided that we would try to help Matthew develop the positive aspects and give him support and guidance and we would help him with the difficulties that autistic children normally encounter. We also realized as parents of an autistic child that we were overwhelmed and very caught up in the emotional aspects of trying to understand what our son is going through and trying our best to help him. We needed to seek support for our fragile psyche.
I am still learning about autism and will be learning about it for the rest of my life and I will always be there for my son as will my wife. I feel as our son grows and we give him the support and encouragement he needs we will see progress. We have to have a lot of patience and put our minds at ease and hold on to hope and realize we are sometimes powerless over our situation but we will try all we can to give our son the necessary support and love to enable him to grow and develop and achieve as he most certainly deserves the same opportunities that all children deserve.
Our son may be autistic but he also is a young child who has the same curiosity and the same desire and the same passion that other children have and he is our pride and joy and we are so proud of him!
Matthew, You’re our shining star! Go fourth and do all you can in life because you are truly special and we love you so much!