Autism and Family Relationships

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Alison Singer’s days became a blur eight years ago when her daughter Jodie, now nearly 11, was diagnosed with autism.

Singer left the workforce temporarily and focused on her daughter. “I set up the home program — 40 hours a week of applied behavioral analysis therapy,” says Singer, referring to a common autism treatment. There were appointments for evaluations to schedule — and then get to — and numerous decisions to make. “Your life becomes dominated by autism spectrum disorder known as skin,” Senator says. “You don’t care if people are staring at your kid.”

You learn, she says, to take control — even if you don’t feel so in control. “Last summer, Nat was jumping up and down on the beach,” she says. “People were staring. I turned around and said [to them,] ‘Everything is under control.’ People backed off.” Just saying that everything was under control made her feel better, Senator says now.

Letting go of that image of what the “ideal” family is can help, says Senator, who often speaks on the topic of living with autism to autism organizations and others. “Families can be as eccentric as they need to be,” she says. “Some aspects of autism appear to be bizarre.”

So, she says: “Let yourself go with that and not worry about being a Hallmark card. Nat has taught me to be less uptight about those kinds of things. You can find enjoyment in odd places with these kids.”