“My son, Harry, was born on Christmas Eve 2002. Although he was small, he was perfect in every way – with thick, blond hair and piercing blue eyes, he was like a miniature version of my husband, Tom, and we fell in love with him straight away.
Harry was hardly any trouble at all – he was a contented baby, whose sunny personality attracted compliments from everyone who met him. An energetic toddler, his happy chatter filled our lives and he would rush around, talking to everyone he met. He had a wide vocabulary and soon learned to express himself, telling anyone else who would listen what he thought about the world he was exploring.
But, over time, Harry became less chatty. At first, we thought it was a phase. Then, we began to notice more changes: Harry struggled to calm down after his tantrums, which were happening more and more frequently. He couldn’t get to sleep at night and spent hours tidying his toys into rows, only settling one they were all neatly in order.
As Harry’s mom, I tried my best to soothe him, giving him the kisses and cuddles that I thought he needed in a bid to show him how loved he was. But, as time went by, he became anxious, distant and, eventually, untouchable. He reacted violently to the affection that Tom and I would show him, pushing us away and then punishing himself with angry words, scratches, bites and slaps. I tried to reach Harry, to understand what he was experiencing, but he wouldn’t let me in.
“Just after Harry’s second birthday, our Doctor confirmed our fears: Harry was on the Autism Spectrum…”
So many emotions ran through us: fear, anger, confusion and, more than anything, guilt that we hadn’t been able to protect Harry from this condition.
They no longer saw a beautiful, intelligent little boy – they only saw the anger and rage when he threw a tantrum. They couldn’t know that, when I looked into his eyes, I saw that my baby was frightened by the world around him and struggling to cope.
Harry didn’t notice the stares and tuts coming from the people around him. Instead, he carried on in his own little world, fulfilling the little rituals and habits that brought him comfort, lining up his toys and humming to himself. But, the uneducated responses and cruel comments from people around us took its toll on me. I felt so incredibly guilty that I couldn’t give Harry the care-free life I so desperately wanted him to have.
“As Harry’s mom, I felt a strong duty to protect him from the outside world, and from other people, who I worried would only see the negative side of his condition.”
Over the next couple of years, I kept Harry close to me as often as possible, turning down the few play-dates we received, rejecting invitations to parenting groups and encouraging him to play at home rather than taking him to the park. I was sure that other parents would look at him and notice the differences in his behaviour.
In a bid to keep him from falling behind with all the milestones that other kids were passing, I would help Harry get dressed in the morning, ignoring his anger when I did his buttons up for him because it was taking him too long. At mealtimes, I’d cut his food up into bite-size pieces for him. Eventually, he stopped trying to get dressed or feed himself, and waited for me to do it for him.
It took a heart-to-heart conversation with my husband to make me realise what I was doing was wrong – not just for me, but for Harry. One night, when I had bathed and undressed Harry, cleaned his teeth for him and put him to bed, Tom asked me to come and sit by him in the sitting room. He told me he’d watched a webinar by a childhood Autism specialist, who explained the seven most common – and dangerous – mistakes that parents of children with Autism can make. “In the webinar, he discovered that over-protecting Autistic children can have a serious negative impact on their long-term development.” Feeling stung by my husband’s words, I finally agreed to watch the webinar with him. I was sure that whoever this so-called ‘expert’ was, she wouldn’t understand the challenges that Harry and I were facing. She wouldn’t know that, when I did Harry’s homework or tied his shoelaces for him, I was trying to help my little boy.
As I watched the webinar, I felt tears well in my eyes. I realised that, by protecting Harry from the world, I’d stopped him from growing into the independent little boy that I wanted him to be. Instead of letting him take on new challenges and celebrating when he did a good job, I did everything for him. In the webinar, renowned childhood Autism expert Sandra Arntzen, M.Ed., explained how over-protecting children on the spectrum can stop, or even reverse, their development. Often motivated by feelings of guilt or fear, parents wrap their Autistic children up in cotton wool and keep them away from challenging experiences that help children to grow, learn and achieve. As I listened to Sandra outlining the other six mistakes that parents of children on the spectrum often make, I felt a sense of relief and comfort. “After twenty years working with Autistic children, Sandra understands the difficulties and encourages parents to look forward to their child’s future, not back.” As my wonderful little boy lay sleeping next door, I opened my mind to what Sandra was saying and vowed to let Harry have all the experiences he should have.
While I would be there forever to support him, I would no longer live his life for him…
Raising a child with Autism is hard. It’s a long-term commitment but I’ve learnt that, by encouraging your child to be independent, you can achieve hope, joy and freedom that you didn’t think was possible.
I’d encourage anyone out there to watch the completely FREE webinar by Sandra Arntzen, M.Ed to find out how to unlock your Autistic child’s potential starting now. Supporting your child appropriately from the earliest possible age is crucial.
Today, you can learn more about the seven most dangerous mistakes, and learn to avoid them.
“Remember: you are the key to your child’s future.”
Children with Autism need strong parents and carers who will give them love, support, boundaries and structure. It’s time to take action, and you’re not alone.
“Join Sandra Arntzen, M.Ed for her FREE webinar, and help your child become one of the success stories.”
Register for your FREE webinar training with Sandra Arntzen, M.Ed now and discover the key to unlocking childhood Autism.