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Interview Answers- On Parenting an Autistic Child

by Sally Willbanks
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Interview Answers- On Parenting an Autistic Child

I was recently interviewed, and I thought the interviewer’s questions were interesting, so I wrote out my responses.

Alex: Every time I see you and your daughter’s relationship, I am blown away by how strong it is. Does this tend to be a common reaction with your followers?

Yes, it does. And that surprises me because I always assume all mothers and daughters are this close. But I think the fact that we homeschool makes us pretty tight. We need to be, we are around each other every day!

Alex: When did you notice that your daughter started showing signs of autism?

My son was diagnosed at 4, when Boo was 6, and his first psychologist told me after our initial family assessment that there is something going on with her too, but we were too involved with getting help for Bear because our family was falling apart. All of Bear’s therapists said something is up with Boo, so over two years ago we had her assessed. Her speech therapist said autism, but the actual psychologist said quirky and ADHD, and gifted. It wasn’t until we moved and found a new paediatrician and psychologist that she got her official diagnosis of autism. It was refreshing, because it was the paediatrician who recognised it, and not me pushing it.

Alex: Has your parenting strategy changed at all since her identification of Autism? If so, how?

Yes, so much, with both my kids. Regular parenting techniques don’t work with neurodivergent kids. Naughty steps and reward charts just don’t cut it. I have to parent differently according to which child I am talking to as well. Bear needs a lot of cushioning and help with every task so that his anxiety doesn’t skyrocket. Boo is very sensitive and gets emotional a lot. It can be a tough road to navigate, and you must drop traditional parenting expectations. My kids just behave differently.

Alex: What would you say to parents who have a really tough time looking at the positives of autism?

I would say them to sit with their sadness but to look out for the joys. It is a really tough parenting journey. It is a separate journey to what the child is going through, of course, but it is just as valid. It is really hard, particularly when you first get the diagnosis. It gets easier. You learn ways to help and work arounds, and you have to ignore unhelpful advice and realise that yes, sometimes you will stand out and people will talk…but your child is unusual and that difference ultimately is theirs to own and celebrate, so teach them how.

Alex: In general, how much of a role would you say that parental support plays in the success of an autistic individual?

I’d say it is huge. We started talking about autism as soon as my son was diagnosed, so the word was always familiar and never scary. I did eventually tell him that he is autistic, and it wasn’t a big deal at that point. I think parents should learn as much as they can, particularly from other autistic people, and support their children every step of the way. Many people have told me that they never received parental support, and they have suffered greatly because of it. We need to teach our children that being different is a good thing, as well as how to stand up for themselves, and to ask for what they need.

Alex: What should parents of an autistic child do to help their child succeed in school?

We homeschool, so my knowledge of this is second hand, but I have done a lot of research on neurodiversity in schools. My advice would be to have good open lines of communication with your child’s teachers, and advocate, advocate, advocate. Make sure there is a quiet space your child can go to decompress, and make sure the teacher knows what sets your child off. Make sure the school allows sensory breaks and things like headphones and stim toys if needed. Ask for reduced homework if there is any. These kids need to be educated with their needs in mind.

Alex: What benefits come out of documenting an autistic child’s journey and growth process on social media?

I think there are benefits for our audience and for my daughter.

The benefits for the audience are obviously education. They can ask questions and learn about the life of an autistic child. I have parents message me telling me that their child is non-verbal, and they really appreciate hearing Boo speak because it offers a glimpse into thoughts their child might have. Parents can also see what it’s like to live as a proud ND family.

The benefits for Boo are it helps her self-esteem in a huge way. She loves doing the videos and reading people’s comments. She wants to continue advocating as she gets older, and I think she will be brilliant at it. She is so proud and happy to be autistic and ADHD, and I think this message is an important one to share. We need to raise our children with this positive spirit so they can advocate for themselves.

by Sally Willbanks

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