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    The Power of Optimism When Raising a Child on the Autism Spectrum

    Topics: Autism & Emotions, Autism & Transitions, Advice for Parents and Caregivers, Parents, Articles

    The Power of Optimism When Raising a Child on the Autism Spectrum


    Without a doubt, raising an autistic child can be extremely stressful and challenging. Learning to embrace a more optimistic mindset, focusing on the strengths and abilities of your autistic child while also pursuing helpful new information and practicing self-care can make an enormous difference for your own and your child’s health and happiness.

    Some people are natural optimists, and it’s not so hard for them to acknowledge the challenge of an autism diagnosis in a hopeful way. Once they have accepted their child’s diffability, they may respond with, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance for me to rethink my child’s goals and focus on their strengths and what will make them truly happy.” 

    For those not so positively inclined, who tend to focus on the deficits, it may take some extra effort to learn to be more optimistic and see the latent possibilities within each autistic individual. 


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    Of course, it’s okay and even important to acknowledge the challenges that come with raising an autistic child. Keeping a journal and documenting these feelings can be very helpful in taking steps toward a more positive view. Some of the common feelings and fears parents and caregivers may experience are: 

    • This will never get better or may become worse.
    • Will I ever have time for just me again?
    • Is it my fault that there are problems with my child’s behavior?
    • Am I doing enough for my child?
    • Will my child ever understand how much he is loved?
    • What will his communication skills be like when he gets older?
    • What sort of future will my child have?

    Acknowledging these feelings and challenges is healthy, but focusing solely on them can lead to depression and maladaptive behavior, such as avoidance, withdrawal, and anger. Sustained pessimism won’t solve the problems and in fact, may even make the situation worse. 

    So how do you go from being a pessimist to an optimist? Here are some steps you can take:

    1. Surround yourself with positive people.

    Optimism is infectious! Find a support group or hang out with friends you know will have a positive effect on you. For me, my grandson’s preschool teachers and school therapists were my biggest allies and cheerleaders. It was a pleasure to talk and confer with them about the difficulties I encountered. They always spoke positively, and I soon found myself excited about the possibilities, just as they were.

    parents support group for children with autism


    2. Focus on the strengths and abilities of autism.

    Yes, there are deficits and challenges in autism, but there are also many amazing possibilities directly related to the diagnosis, such as:

    • Learning to read at a very early age (known as hyperlexia).
    • Memorizing and learning information quickly.
    • Thinking and learning visually.
    • Logical thinking ability.
    • Excelling (if able) in academic areas such as science, engineering, mathematics, or other subjects that do not heavily rely on social interaction.
    • Having an extraordinarily good memory.
    • Being precise and detail-orientated.
    • Being exceptionally honest and reliable.
    • Being dependable in regards to schedules and routines.
    • Having an excellent sense of direction.
    • Being very punctual.
    • Adhering strongly to rules.
    • Concentrating for long periods when motivated.
    • Displaying a drive for perfection and order.
    • Demonstrating a capability for alternate problem-solving.
    • Presenting a rare freshness and sense of wonder.

    Focusing on the amazing attributes of your autistic child, and verbalizing them, is very uplifting. Compliments—both giving and receiving them—related to your child’s strengths and abilities can be very empowering for both you and your child. 

    3. Knowledge is power.

    The more you read about and learn in the field of autism, the stronger and better you will feel about parenting your child. That turned the tide for me when I first received my grandson’s diagnosis. It helped me feel more confident and optimistic about his prognosis. As I learned, it became easier to ask the right questions and to get direction toward the appropriate solutions and strategies to help me care for him. It will do the same for you!


    4. Find the tools you need.

    Learning about autism will also help you find valuable tools to help your child. I learned how to use visual supports, alleviate my grandson’s anxiety, tackle sleep and toileting issues, and help him with his many sensory sensitivities. When new problems arose, I felt assured that I would be able to find new answers and tools by researching and asking my support team for help. 


    5. Take time for yourself.

    In an earlier article, “Cut Yourself Some Slack,” I shared the importance of self-care and taking time for yourself. I had to learn to accept the help of others to get some time just for me. Having some time to myself was a great mood enhancer and often changed a gloomy outlook to a bright one. Find something that works for you, whether it is taking a walk, going for coffee with a friend, exercising, or whatever it is that will help you truly relax. Schedule that me-time regularly, and don’t feel guilty about taking some time away from your family. You will be a better parent or caregiver for having done so.


    6. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

    It is very normal to feel overwhelmed or sad, especially after first receiving the autism diagnosis. Even experienced parents still have these feelings from time to time—me included. I felt quite down and blamed myself for not doing enough after a recent IEP meeting that focused mostly on negative behaviors that are hindering my grandson from moving faster to a more inclusive setting. I felt so disheartened. It took a dear friend to remind me that there has been so much positive progress too. Looking back on where we were a year ago helped me refocus on the positive and rekindled my optimism for future progress. When you feel down, talk about it with someone you know will lift you and help you move through this difficult time.


    7. Try to get more sleep, if possible.

    Sleep deprivation is a very big and real factor in families with children on the autism spectrum. It can affect both the autistic child’s behavior and the quality of family life. When I am very tired, it affects my ability to make good decisions, and it is much harder to be patient, both at work and at home. If there is a way for you to get some extra sleep, by all means, do it! It can make a big difference in your outlook.Sleep Self-Care

    These are just a few things you can do to change from feeling pessimistic to being an optimist. Even starting with practicing one or two of these tips can help you go from looking at the glass as half empty to seeing it as half full. You will feel so much better and able to cope.

    Of course, no life is perfect, and you may not feel happy all the time, but by making an effort to think more optimistically, and by practicing self-care, you will be better able to do your best and make the right decisions for your family. All because of the amazing power of optimism.

    We hope you enjoyed the information in this article. STAGES® Learning also offers free downloadable resources to support teaching and learning with individuals with autism. Start with our free Picture Noun Cards and see our collection of other downloadable resources here!

    Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan

    Written by Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan

    Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan is an author, public speaker, and Certified Autism Resource Specialist from the Netherlands. After working abroad as a teacher and humanitarian for 25 years, she moved to the US in 2006 and assumed the care of her then 6-month-old grandson, Logan. There were signs of autism at an early age, and the diagnosis became official in 2009. She has been his advocate and passionate about promoting autism awareness and acceptance ever since. Logan is the inspiration behind the Autism Is...? (tinyurl.com/5aj73ydd) series of children’s books she initially wrote for him and later published. Ymkje currently lives in California with her now 15-year-old grandson, and besides writing, presents autism training workshops for early childhood educators, parents, and caregivers. You can read more about her story in her newly released book, Autism on a Shoestring Budget, [Early] Intervention Made Easier (https://tinyurl.com/ysxhxbmf). For more information, you can visit www.autism-is.com, www.facebook.com/AutismIs, and/or contact her at autismisbooks@gmail.com.


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