Have you heard the expression “Happiness is a choice”? For families that include kids with autism, that couldn’t be truer! Parents dealing with this mysterious and frustrating condition are under enormous amounts of pressure. It’s likely that in addition to their child going to school, they are also running to numerous therapies, activities, and appointments. If they have more than one child, it can be sheer insanity. As nice as the expression is, you certainly can’t force happiness, but by adding purposeful joy and laughter into your life, you can not only help your autistic child, but also benefit yourself, your spouse, and your other children.
When our third child was eight years old, we heard of Asperger’s syndrome for the first time. We were thrilled to finally have a real diagnosis. Mark was quirky and happy, and with high-functioning autism, he and our other three kids were joyful, silly children. When Mark was 12 years old, our entire world changed. It became obvious that something was very different about our sixth child, seven-month-old Nathan. No Asperger’s this time, this was full-blown (doctor’s words) autism. Before even a year old, he couldn’t handle noise, touching, textures…the list goes on. I was devastated and mourning for my baby who seemed to be hurting all the time.
As Nathan got a little older, we started to notice things that made him giggle here and there. Boy, did we exploit that! For example, Daddy would put two soda bottle lids over his eyes and just sit there until Nathan noticed and lost it laughing. We’d replay the opening credits of a movie where a guy pops into and out of the shot…for an hour! Just silly things. By the time our last two kids came, back to back, we weren’t so shocked that number seven was an “Aspie” too. There’s another expression, “If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry.” That laughter is crucial for us! Here’s what else has gotten us through:
- With some kids with autism, it takes months to detect their pattern of humor; just relax and observe what makes them laugh.
- Take note of what’s happening when they give a little giggle or a full-on fit of laughter. For Nathan, sudden surprises and things way out of place crack him up. Do calm, but unexpected things, like the soda lid eyes.
- Keep a journal, notebook, or, like we do, a big piece of poster board on the wall to write down the funny things your kids say. Autistic kids are usually very literal, so you end up with some hysterical stuff! I like to tell Nathan, “You make Mama laugh,” when he says or does something silly. Now he makes an effort to do it!
- Know when to stop. You know their signs of “being done,” don’t push too much.
- Check out the book, The Funny Side of Autism by Lisa Masters.
- “Spaghetti Is Not A Finger Food (and other life lessons)” (beyondautismawareness.wordpress.com)