Navigating my toddler’s early autism signs amongst misplaced reassurances - Subtly Anxious

Navigating my toddler’s early autism signs amongst misplaced reassurances

As a first time parent, I see resilience and patience. We power through sleep deprivation, worry, and the daily juggles of family, work and social life. We question choices. We second guess actions. But above all, we surround our children with so much love that it often leaves us vulnerable.

When my toddler was recently assessed to exhibit early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), my world shook. I started to see early signs from around 2 years old. Not out of fear for the label, but out of an overpowering concern for the unique challenges my little one would face. The diagnosis landed like a soft snowflake - gentle, yet distinctly reflective of the blizzard of emotions raging within me.

This concern, however, was often met with dismissive remarks from well-intentioned, but misinformed parents. "They will grow out of it," they'd say, or "All kids are different. Give them time." These remarks often gave me a sense of anxiety going between hope, worry, and uncertainty.

The phrase, "they will grow out of it," simply epitomises dismissive reassurance. It undermines the struggles, the achievements, and the progress our child can achieve with early intervention and continual support. It's like silencing a cry in the wilderness, failing to understand the underlying echoes.

Autism is not a T-shirt that a child can outgrow; it is a perspective of perceiving the world differently.

This dismissive attitude can lead parents like us down a path of denial or deter us from seeking help. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been deterred from asking for help because of another parent making those types of comments.

By stating, “they will grow out of it”, it gives us false hopes and the longer we “let them grow out of it,” missed opportunities for early intervention will be clear.

It propagates misconceptions about autism too, feeding a societal stereotype that diminishes an ASD child's experience.

As a parent, it's so important to remember that every child's journey is unique, irrespective of sharing a diagnosis. Every milestone our children achieve - their first word, their ability to maintain eye contact, their engagement in social play - is more potent than any 'typical' milestone. These signify their resilience, their fight, their journey mapping the rainbow of autism rather than typical development.

Our role is not to direct our children towards outgrowing it, but to guide them in growing with it. I want to be their support system, to celebrate their minor and major victories alike, and to acknowledge their struggles.

Empathy supersedes sympathy in any parental situation. Empathy extends beyond familiar grounds and resonates with the unfamiliar. It allows parents to be vulnerable, be lost, grieve, celebrate, and most importantly, it equips them with emotional armour to face the challenges that an ASD diagnosis brings.

 

We need to change the conversation from 'outgrowing' to understanding, accepting, and being proactive. We need to exchange the language of negativity for the vocabulary of possibility and potential. Instead of saying “they will grow out of it”, let's say, "how can we support you?” or “let's learn more about this together.” Because this is not about growing out, as much as it is about growing up and growing strong.

As I navigate this winding journey of parenthood, among all of the anxiety and worry, I recognise the need to change my own perspective, to listen more, to learn more, and to let my child shine, just the way they are. After all, my child might not ultimately grow out of their autism, but they will definitely grow into their boundless potential, painting their unique masterpiece on the colourful canvas of life.

 

Remember, it's not a crisis, it's a journey. A journey we never planned, but sure are ready to embark on. With strength, positivity, research, and interventions tailored to our child, we'll navigate it. Because that's what parents do, we face the storm to keep our kids safe, and we thrive.

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