My son, Jamie, has ASD. He was diagnosed at the age of 4 and is now 21. Although he is high-functioning, he has severe speech and language impairments. That means he finds it difficult to comprehend anything that is said or written.
For six long years after diagnosis, I was upset about his condition and felt separated from him. He was silent and alone. Then one day, sitting in the car with him, I knew I had to make him respond to me. I said, “Jamie, I was off work today. I felt sick… Now it’s your turn.” He seemed surprised. Never before had I asked anything of him. I waited a while and then repeated, “I was sick. Now it’s your turn.” Then, suddenly, out of the blue, he replied, “Was your tummy bad?”
“No!” I said, “But that’s just what I wanted! That’s a conversation!” And with those words, a whole new world opened up for me and Jamie. I started to get ideas as to how to engage him in talk and how to help him ‘get’ the social side of life.
It has been the most incredible experience of my life. And it began in the car over 11 years ago. Pretty soon after that I realised that I needed to work out what Jamie’s capabilities were and how together we could work on them. So I drew up a chart with important milestones written on it – it listed 50 key steps from ‘Responds to own name’ and ‘Can ask a simple Yes/No question’ to ‘Has developed the skills of independence.’ Over the years we have chipped away at these goals and he has now completed all of them.
Jamie drives his own car and has passed his truck driving licence, he has a part-time job at a nursery, he goes to a local pub every Sunday night and he manages his own bank balance. And, of course, he talks comfortably with others. In short he is everything a fond parent could want in a son. And what he has given me more than compensates for my ‘dedication’ to him and working on the strategies liberated both of us.
Time magazine recently published a list of 10 Steps to a Happier Life and number 8 was: For a Happier Life, Set Goals. In his studies, the psychologist Jonathan Freedman claimed that people with the ability to set objectives for themselves are happier and the neuroscientist Richard Davidson found that working toward a goal doesn’t just activate positive feelings, it also suppresses negative emotions such as fear and depression.
So do yourself and your child a favour and work out a set of short-term and long-term goals. You’ll not only be helping your child, you’ll also be feeding your own happiness gene…