I find I sometimes get bogged down in worrying so much about my child’s future. I think that’s a pretty common trap for us. How do you keep each day, each milestone in perspective? And I guess, how do you keep the faith when fear and the daunting illness autism is can sometimes bury us?
I think I’ll start with – What is a milestone? What is it’s purpose?
A milestone has no value in and of itself. It’s simply a marker. In that respect it’s a lot like a label. We often talk about the label of autism and what that means. The most important thing to know about a label is it’s useful for qualifying for services (Speech, OT, etc.). Beyond that, labels have limited value. Sure they’re a quick and easy way to describe someone. “My child has autism” might be something we share quickly with curious or disapproving strangers. For them, that’s the most they’ll ever know about our child. But a single label is a very broad stroke to paint someone with.
QUICK! What ONE WORD best describes you?
My guess is it probably took you some time (not very quick – that’s cheating) and you probably thought of at least a few words that describe you. Of course, then you had to weigh them out to see which one fit best. You’ll most likely acknowledge that what that ONE WORD is will change based on your feelings or surroundings or situation. We recognize that a single word cannot encapsulate the whole of who we are or who a child is, though at any given time a single attribute or trait can be our focus. And that brings us back to perspective.
How do we change our perspective?
We simply change our focus (I say “simply” recognizing that doing so isn’t always “simple”). Step back, take a look around. You won’t see just a single trait. You’ll see a whole person. And you’ll see that person’s place in your life. You’ll see their place in your family. You’ll even see their place in the world (if you haven’t seen it yet, keep looking. It may take time, but you will see it).
So, what does that have to do with milestones?
A milestone is just a label for a place an event. It acts as a marker – a point of focus. It doesn’t provide meaning without context. We can be so focused on an event, that we aren’t able to see it in it’s proper context.
One way to look at milestones, is in the context of milestones that have been passed. Take a look back and see all the events you’ve been through that led to a particular milestone. I think this is one of the blessings of having a child with autism. I think when parents of neurotypical kids look back on milestones that have been passed, they don’t see as many as we do. Why? Because we recognize more events as milestones. We share the joy of many more firsts because we don’t take anything for granted. We know the sweat and tears that go into the simplest most seemingly insignificant things. Don’t forget to look back and remember those milestones. Rejoice in them and celebrate the struggles, triumphs, and growth.
Another way to look at milestones, is in the context of those you have yet to reach. The challenge is not to become so focused on what lies ahead, that we miss the joy of being in the moment. If we forget where we are, how can we ever hope to reach where we want to go? That of course implies that we have somewhere we want to go. You and your child get to plot that course together (which is an exciting and rewarding process).
I like to say if you give a child a short ladder, you’ll never know how high they can climb. So set the bar high. Shoot for the stars. Celebrate where you are. Revel in where you’ve been. Does that answer the questions I set out to address? I don’t know. I hope this explains how I (try to) keep perspective. That’s not saying that I always have things in their proper focus and always know what to do. Nope, I still get lost plenty. But I have relationships: with my son, wife, family, friends, and God – that are all beacons to help me find my way again and help me keep the faith.