Hi, I am Natalie, a mom of two boys. My son’s Autism diagnosis has changed my life and led me to help and empower other parents around the world. Here I write about how Autism entered my world and how I now help other parents encourage their children’s progress.
Autism: It changed my world
Three and a half years ago, my mother’s intuition told me something was off with my older child. Mind you, he was only 6 months at the time, but everyone always told me he was such a quiet, well-behaved baby. He wouldn’t cry if I left the room, wouldn’t fuss if he was around strangers (no stranger anxiety) and he would spend hours in my lap while I read to him. I was lucky, as others put it because I didn’t need to deal with a fussy baby.
Fast forward to his first birthday and we experienced our first meltdown when we sang happy birthday to him in a room full of our closest friends and family. Once again, my intuition was telling me something just wasn’t right. At 12 months, our son was silent. No babbling, no pretend play and no attempts to copy what others around him were doing. Then, it happened. He started to develop his intense fascination for letters and numbers. We bought him an easel and magnetic letters and numbers and he started to place them on the easel in alphabetical order.
At 14 months, he had full letter and number recognition. Our family and friends started to convince us we had a gifted child on our hands, but we had reservations.
At 16 months, he still wasn’t saying any words and that’s when the sensory issues started to become apparent. Our little monkey was overstimulated in noisy environments and started to cover his ears frequently when we were out, when the vacuum was on, when we used other small appliances in the kitchen and when toys made sounds. He developed this coping mechanism on his own and it seemed to allow him to escape into his own world when the world around him was just too loud.
At 18 months we finally reached the top of the waitlist for a speech assessment and that’s when it hit me. My worst fear. The speech pathologist said the word I was dreading all along. Autism.
She asked, “Have you ever wondered if your son has autism?” I couldnt even formulate a sentence I just started to cry because it’s exactly what I had been thinking since our little monkey was 6 months old. When he wouldn’t look around for me when I left the room, when he wouldn’t clap his hands and copy my actions when I sang to him and when he wasn’t displaying the behaviour of a typical 6 month old. Was I in denial? No. Was I ignorant? No. Was I scared? Absolutely. What did this mean?
The word autism is down right scary. We all have the misconception of what autism is and I just didn’t know if I was ready to face it. However, after that speech assessment, I knew it was time to put those fears aside and start educating myself so that I could face what I knew in my heart was around the corner – An official ASD diagnosis. And that’s exactly what ended up happening.
Our son was 2 years and 3 months when he was diagnosed. Since then, we have enrolled him in ABA therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Over the last year and a half, we have seen tremendous gains and feel we are learning so much from his therapists.
As parents, you’ll do anything for your child and that’s why we spend the spare time that we have coming up with activities that will stimulate his senses, expose him to new things and increase the opportunity to practice the social and verbal communication skills that are lacking.
Unfortunately, our story doesn’t end here as we have another little monkey who was also diagnosed with autism earlier this year. Fortunately, we received his diagnosis earlier than our older son and started therapy right away. Early intervention is key! We are slowly seeing gains in all areas and are hopeful in his future as well.
Helping other Parents
Our Instagram page #ForLittleMonkeys was developed to showcase the tips and tricks that have been working for our boys and to share the toddler activities that we expose our children to throughout the day. We try to come up with activities that don’t involve a lot of prep time.
Since our little monkeys are struggling with their fine motor skills, you’ll come across a lot of posts that are centred around developing these skills. Developing and strengthening fine motor muscles are the precursor to many other things, most notably hand-writing. To alleviate the frustration your child may face once they’re in school, we recommend building these skills by exposing them to the activities on our Instagram page.
Here are our top three tips for developing fine motor skills:
1. Pincer Grip: Picking up small items with your index finger, middle finger and thumb takes practice. Strengthening these muscles will allow your child to hold a pencil properly by the time they’re of school age (kindergarten). The best tip we have for this is to give your children small broken pieces of chalk or crayon, along with a piece of paper so that they can practice writing, tracing and drawing. The small chalk or crayon forces your child to use the pincer grip and hold the writing utensil properly. They won’t realize it, but they’ll be strengthening the right muscles and preparing their little fingers for handwriting, a skill that can be very frustrating if the muscles are weak.
2. Opening and Closing the Hand with Resistance: Tongs are the best tool when it comes to this activity. Give your child a small pair of tongs and get them to pick up small items out of a sensory bin. Make it exciting and add water, sand or even Jello and get them to use the tongs to pick the small items out of the sensory bin. Without realizing it, they’ll be strengthening those tiny muscles.
3. Stickers: Who doesn’t love playing with stickers? It takes a lot of practice to peel stickers and place them on a piece of paper. Make it challenging, yet fun by giving your child a pattern that they’ll need to follow with the stickers. This ensures they’re being precise with the placement of the sticker once it’s peeled off and gives your child the opportunity to also practice their motor planning skills, another skill that many children, especially those with ASD struggle with.
I really hope you found these tips useful and are inspired to try the activities that are on our Instagram page.
We look forward to seeing your children in action, so please feel free to use the hashtag #forlittlemonkeys if you give any of the activities from our page a try.
Natalie is a mom of two boys with special needs who is committed to finding new ways to keep her little monkeys engaged when they’re not in therapy. The activities she comes up with aren’t just for children with special needs, as they can help neurotypical children as well. Follow her Instagram account to see what she comes up with next for your little monkey!
If you enjoyed Natalie’s story about her son’s Autism journey you may also enjoy Conor’s Autism Birth Story.