Whenever I’m asked what has made the difference in Chase’s development since being diagnosed with autism, the obvious response is of course early intervention. Nothing can take the place of this. But just as important as early intervention has been surrounding both Chase and myself with the right support system. Chase would not be as successful in his therapies, and I would not be as successful as a parent, if we did not have the right people around us speaking “life” instead of doom-and-gloom into our circumstances and efforts. When Chase was first diagnosed with autism, I remember a family friend, who had worked in special education for years, telling me every negative thing that was possible about autism. She told me there was a strong chance that Chase may never be potty trained. Chase may never develop socially or intellectually. While I had no intention of floating down “Denial River” about my son’s diagnosis, I was also not going to walk the road of despair. Then there was my father. A man filled with perpetual and infectious hope. A man who believes in the power of speaking life into a person’s circumstances. My father would tell Chase on a daily basis that he is smart; he is strong; he is handsome; he has a good heart; and that he loves him. It didn’t matter that Chase didn’t make eye contact; or that Chase suffered from speech delay and cognitive processing delay which didn’t allow him to verbally respond to those accolades, let alone understand them. My father said them anyways, and always with an encouraging tone, a big smile on his face, and a hug to follow. Chase’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends have always spoken words of life, love, and encouragement to him and about him throughout his journey:
Chase, you’re the best.
You can do it Chase.
Chase, you are the smartest boy.
I’m so proud of you, Chase.
Chase, you swim like a shark.
Chase, you are a genius.
You are the sweetest boy, Chase.
Chase, you are awesome.
You have the best heart.
I love you, Chase.
Regardless of a diagnosis, one of the most important things you can instill in a child is a sense of self-worth. This can only be accomplished through our words, attitudes, and actions. When children know their self-worth, it gives them a confidence and strength that allows them to accomplish things that they wouldn’t be able to do without knowing or understanding their value. One of the funniest stories of Chase’s childhood was the day he came home and told me that another child at school called him a loser. Chase was in the 2nd or 3rd grade at the time. The fact that Chase was called a loser wasn’t funny, but Chase’s response to it was. He was truly baffled by the child’s derogatory remark. Chase had never heard anyone say anything about him other than that he was the best. When I asked him how he responded to the other boy, he said in a confused but confident tone, “I’m not a loser. I’m a winner.” As if to say, “Clearly you did not get the memo.” It made me extremely happy in that moment to hear Chase’s sense of self-worth come shining through, and I remember giving him a high-five and a huge hug for responding so appropriately.
Just like our children, one of the most important things parents need as we walk the journey with our children is that same sense of self-worth and value. Parents’ sense of self-worth can very easily be lost when walking through an unfamiliar world filled with doctor appointments, therapists, new terminology, and an uncertain future for their children and themselves. All of this is intimidating enough without the added pressure of having to ask yourself, “Am I smart enough and strong enough to navigate my child’s way through this journey?” The intense love for our children is what gets us up every day to battle alongside them; but like food and water strengthen our bodies, encouragement through sincere words and attitudes, strengthens our spirits. Like Chase, my father, loved ones and acquaintances have spoken words of life, love, and encouragement to me throughout my journey as a parent:
Mary, you are a good mother.
You are making good decisions, Mary.
I respect you, Mary.
I’m proud of you, Mary.
I love you Mary.
Hearing people around you say, “You’re a good mom / dad”; “I’m proud of you”; “You’re making good decisions”, is fuel to parents. Affirmations from those within our support systems, help us remember our value as parents; push away fear and self-doubt; remind us that in the midst of the work, school, IEP’s, therapies, clinics, fun-time, dinnertime, and bedtime we’re not machines, but people; and they empower us to reach beyond what we think is possible, into realms of greater possibilities for our children and ourselves. And by greater possibilities, I mean each individual’s personal best; and everyone’s greater possibilities / personal best will be different from one another. Words of affirmation from those in our lives, open up gateways which allow those possibilities to enter into our circumstances.
Given the significant influence others can have on our lives, it is extremely important who we allow into our inner circles. Are there some adjustments, new additions, or ties to break in order to have more life spoken into your circumstances and the best support system for you and your child? If so, I promise that when you make those changes you will experience a significant, positive difference. Having my father, family members, friends, and colleagues speak life into me and Chase through their words, attitudes, and actions has been the greatest kind of support we could ever receive. Our Love and Thanks to all of you!