Raising An Autistic Son: Four Things I’d Change

My son is a successful sophomore in high school and I wouldn’t change a single thing about him now. He was diagnosed with Autism at age 2 and received countless hours of speech and occupational therapy to get where we are today. Often as he goes through life’s milestones, I reflect back on how much we have learned and how much our family has grown. Along with that, I often think about things I would have done differently. I share some of these thoughts with you as I look back on his upbringing that knowing what I know now, I may have done differently then.


1. Talk about the issue with others.

When we received Joshua’s diagnosis we were committed to getting the services he needed for success. I think that everyone knew that something was different with Joshua. In hindsight, the signs were obvious, but when you are in the moment, you tend to brush off the lack of eye contact, the flapping, or other noticeable behaviors. This is not about denial…this is about telling friends and family what was going on so that they could learn tools and techniques for communicating with our son. Plus, we knew the more people encouraged eye contact, talked with Joshua, etc., the higher rate of success for Joshua to communicate.

2. Let him use some signs.

Again – hindsight is 20/20 and parents of any child may think of things they would do differently.  But this was one where I think I was just being stubborn and insistent that our son use words to get his needs met. His frustration was high and I think I could have decreased that simply by having a few signs he could use to get his basic needs met. Asking for things like milk, a favorite toy, or movie could have made his life a little easier.

3. Skip the birthday parties.

Okay…maybe not skip them but maybe make them smaller? He hated them – I mean really hated them.  As we watch home movies you can see the anxiety in everything he does.  He didn’t even like opening presents with everyone crowding around him. He didn’t like singing happy birthday and he didn’t like everyone in his house.

4. Not worry about handwriting.

I am not trying to upset any educators with this comment at all. I think writing is critical. But our son had such a hard time with fine motor skills that we would have him practicing writing over and over and over. (And over). Now he types everything – probably faster than I do – and that’s the best way for him since his writing is quite dreadful (no offense).

If you are raising a child as you read this, keep in mind that for you it might not be sign language or hand writing – it might be things like letting them drink soda or have 10 of their favorite toy. If you have raised kids, particularly special needs kids, is there something you would do differently?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Pam is the Executive Director of the Orange Effect Foundation. She worked in the marketing field for the past 10 years, serving as Chief Operations Officer for Content Marketing Institute. During that time she found her passion to build and lead amazing teams because of the commitment of the staff at CMI. Pam also helped to create Content Marketing World, an event where over 3500 marketers come together annually to learn and network with the best and brightest. Pam's background is in social work, and she is raising a son with autism so the opportunity to start and direct this nonprofit is a dream come true. She has been a key leader in the CMI Golf for Autism the past 11 years and a champion for many other nonprofit organizations.
  1. Sarah Mitchell Reply

    Hi Pam,

    This resonates with me, especially three and four. My son is on the Autism spectrum and no one ever gave us much support. This is the first time I ever connected birthday parties to the condition. We tried everything – big and small, fancy and simple – it didn’t matter, he was miserable. And so we’re we because we tried to get it right.

    At Christmas it would take a week for him to open his presents when he was little. That was fine because we live in another country from the rest of our family. Our worst Christmas ever was when my in- laws visited for the holidays (for 6 weeks!) when he was 5. I could not have anticipated the mayhem it caused. And now that I think about it, a lot of the expectations were about what was normal and we weren’t filling the bill.

    My son is 13 now and, like you, we’ve come a long way. I can’t read his handwriting either and all our hours of practice were wasted, too. Technology has solved it.

    • Maureen Stanton Reply

      So glad to hear! Best wishes for a peaceful holiday season.

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