8 Ways to Prepare Now for Your Autistic Child’s Future

A few months ago my autistic, but otherwise extremely healthy child was denied life insurance. In preparation for college, J and I started plans for the boys that could be converted into dollars for college tuition. Recently, we were notified that Cooper was denied coverage. I was irate. Autism is not a death sentence. My son is healthy. He has no medical conditions.

After following up I was informed that Autism is considered a vulnerable and at-risk life. He is more susceptible than most to dangers.

Well, I couldn’t deny that. I even had the anxiety to prove it.

I was crushed though. I felt like my baby had been given a death sentence. Never in all my Autism processing did I ever picture my son not living a long, healthy life. This was the prompt that forced Cooper’s dad and I to talk about the future.

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Our son was autistic and would be for the rest of his life. It took 6 long years for that to sink in and reach my brain AND my heart.

And, even though he is autistic his future is still very unclear. There is no crystal ball that tells us what the future will hold for my little fighter.

I still pray daily that my son will ‘snap out of it.’ I pray that he starts talking.  I pray that he improves socially, cognitively, behaviorally and emotionally. I pray that he grows up and attends dances, birthday parties and makes friends. I pray that he graduates and attends college. I pray that he gets a job and gets married and gives me a dozen beautiful grand babies.

This is not reality though. That is the land of hope and wishful thinking. It is time for our family to plan for our son’s future.

The reality of the situation is that Cooper will live with us for the rest of his life.

I avoided these conversations for years because I felt that if we talked about long-term care then we were giving up.

And whenever I did bring it up someone would always say….’don’t give up hope. You don’t know what the future holds.’ And then I’d feel guilty. I’d feel like a bad mom. But here is the deal. I know my son. I love him more than I can put into words. But it’s time. It’s time to talk about caring for this little boy for the rest of my life.

It’s time our family switched from ‘hoping for the future’ mode to ‘planning for the future’ mode.

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Kacie K Photography

The start of these conversations were brutal. It appeared that like many other special needs families, Cooper’s dad and I weren’t always on the same rate of acceptance. Rarely are both parents to a child on the same page when it comes to a disability. It takes time. We all adjust at our own pace. But I felt like I was carrying the weight of his future on my shoulders. It was crushing me.

After the life insurance debacle I broke through to him. Our son had a life long disability. To us he is Super Cooper. A cute, funny, silly, train loving little boy. We try not to think of him as being any different than his brother. But that is not the reality.

It took us longer as a family to accept that our son might live with us forever than to actually plan for it.

I personally feel the key is to start talking. Just start the conversation. Look at your spouse and say…’are we prepared for our daughter/son to live with us for the rest of their life.’ It’s a conversation starter my friends. It may end in tears or a fight. Keep bringing it up.

Here are the 8 tips I can offer you to prepare for your autistic child’s future:

  1. Initiate the Tough Conversation

    You cannot do this alone. Talk to your spouse. Ask the icky questions. Talk about the future. Talk about how raising an adult child factors into retirement. Where you are going to live. Finances. Remember though to go easy on your spouse. We all accept at our own pace.

  2. Start Talking

    Start talking about Autism. Talk to your neighbors about you child. Tell them your child is vulnerable and to take action immediately if they see them alone. Invite your local police officers over to meet your child. Talk about erratic behavior and how they handle it.  Have conversations with your family, friends and their kids. Talk to them about autism. Just do it. Talk about the future and what that looks like. They will be more supportive if they know.

  3. Start Researching

    No matter your child’s age raising a disabled little person is expensive. Start searching for information (state and county specific) around Disability Waivers and CADI Waivers, Consumer Support Grants, Medical Assistance and Medical Assistance-TEFRA, and social security. I encourage you to get a social worker. Social workers can really help ease the transition from High School to adulthood. Look into savings plans.

  4. Take Safety Precautions at Home

    Look into getting door alarms, fences, overhead lighting, etc. Make your home a safe space for your child. It will put your mind at ease.

  5. Keep your Child Safe

    Look into getting a tracking device for your child like Angel Sense. Get a medical ID bracelet. Also, if you have an older child who may be left home alone think about getting a bracelet for yourself. It can say something like, ‘vulnerable child at home.’ If you are in an accident people need to look for your child. Look into ‘nonverbal/autism/disabled’ signs for your car, car seat or even your home. Autistic people can act erratically in crisis situations. This will notify law enforcement of their disability.

  6. Talk about a Living-At-Home Situation

    Our child is most likely going to live with us for the rest of his life. This is not negative. This is reality. Talk to your spouse about that. It can make some people very uncomfortable. And that’s OK. We all feel and accept differently. One option is to have a house with a complete living space in the basement or a separate part of the house. Your child can have their own space and live ‘independently’. Think about having a PCA in your home.

  7. Talk About Group Home Settings

    The thought of this makes me completely melt down. I can’t think about it. Cooper is so vulnerable and susceptible to abuse and exploitation. So, if Cooper shows ANY desire to move out and live in an adult, semi-independent setting we will start a small care facility and use the home I currently own. We’ve already started researching this.

  8. Think About a Future Without You

    Finding a guardian for a special needs kid is different than carrying for a typical one. It can be for life. Think about who you would ask to care for your child or adult child if something were to happen to you.

This is the icky side friends and I talk about it often. I talk about it because if I don’t it paralyzes me.  I am scared of carrying for a disabled adult. And that’s OK. I’m going to figure it out…but I can’t do it alone. As I look to the future I need my son’s village more than I ever thought possible.

I want you to know that you can do this. You are so much stronger than you ever thought possible. And you are not alone.

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Kacie K Photography

Dear Mom, I Read Your Letter Today

A few days ago I shared a letter I wrote for my son Sawyer. You can read it HERE.  It was a toughie to share. It was brutally honest. It was real. And I really put myself out there. I purged every ounce of worry and self-doubt that I have about raising an autistic child alongside a typical child.

Let’s get something straight.

Cooper is an amazing little boy. He is funny and sweet and brings more joy than I can put into words. But…it’s different for me. I am his mother. He came from me. I am here on this earth to care for him. And I am 33 years old. I got some age and wisdom behind me.  I can accept the challenges that our life offers more than a four year old. Or a 10 year old. Or a teenager.

As I sat and read the comments on my letter I started to spiral…’you love Sawyer more.’ ‘I feel bad for both of your sons.’ ‘You don’t love Cooper.’

I had failed.

I thought long and hard about it. Was I wrong to worry about Sawyer resenting his brother?

 

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Quite possibly I guess. I’m not expert in child development.

And then it hit me.

I am not a sibling to a child with special needs (nor were the commenters). I am simply the mother. And what the hell do I know about growing up with an autistic sibling.

I had meant to help others by writing that letter. That was my only objective. Despite the thousands of amazing comments I worried that I had failed.

Then this letter showed up in my inbox. It was written to me as if it was from Sawyer. The author’s name is Kara Dymond. And it changed my life and outlook on everything. Just like that. I was saved again by a stranger.

Grab your tissues friends.


Dear Mom,

I read your letter today.

You should know that the person I am today is because of you, and because of my brother.

Know that I never resented the focus on him. Not really. I watched, and learned, what it means to love someone. To nurture them. To not only care for him, but to allow him to care for us. Not in the traditional sense, but in his way. Love is not a spoken language. He makes me laugh, deep belly laughs, and smile till the creases in my face hurt. He is pure, and the euphoria we feel when he is happy and with each small step forward is unlike any other joy. Being with him simplifies life to what really matters. Cynicism and self-absorption fade away. We experience life in full color. Those are the times that make the grief, the stress, the anger at the world’s injustice seem unimportant, if only for a while.

And those times you spoiled me? These helped me to learn to appreciate the sweet moments, and to take nothing for granted. That the chaos of life is tempered by levity.

You wondered how I would feel about my brother, now, as an adult. You never had to tell me what my role would be; I knew. There was no doubt. As I grow older, and you grow older, I worry too about outliving my brother, just as you do. He factors into my every decision. But it is not a sacrifice.

My best qualities are inextricably linked to my brother. I have an empathy and interest in others I would not have, without him. I understand the difference between treating someone equitably and treating someone equally. You taught me this.

In a way you could say my brother keeps me out of trouble. I don’t waste time on the wrong people. I have a list of qualities I look for in a partner because I am looking out for someone who will love us both. This may also seem like a sacrifice but it is not. I want a partner who sees the innate value in others, and who can move beyond fear to meeting him where he is.

He is a gift. He is the reason I now teach children with autism. When I was offered the job, I wondered if it was a good idea. Would it be too hard to work all day, sharing in the pain and joys of other families, to come home to ours? But then I realized: would anyone else love these students the way I do? Six years on, I have no regrets. And I want to change the world for my students. Which is why I am now getting my doctorate in autism education. Because the world is changing and everything he has taught me can be passed along to others. Because he really is the greater teacher.

I know there is a grief so deep in you that it is hard to get out of bed sometimes. But we are so much more whole than we would be without him. There is lightness that permeates the darkness.

He may not say it, and I definitely don’t say it enough, but thank you. I love you, for all that you have done. I am happy to help. I am grateful to help. I have been preparing for this for as long as I can remember.

Don’t worry, Mom, I got this. I got you.

Love, Kara


As I sit here and read this letter over and over again the tears are streaming down my face. Like the broken record I am I can say that I had a long night. I am exhausted.

Today I am feeling the strains of  motherhood…not just autism.

And then I read this letter from Kara and a feeling of calm washed over me.

This is going to be OK. We are all going to be OK. We are raising amazing kids. Some with disabilities and some without. We are teaching them love and kindness and we are ALL doing an amazing job.

I reached out to Kara and thanked her immensely for her words. I also asked her to tell me more about her brother and their relationship. It’s pretty great stuff. She is an absolutely amazing woman. She is making a difference at home and in the world. I can’t even imagine how proud her mother is of her!

Danny

My brother Danny is soon to be 29, and I am a few years older. We have two other older siblings. My sister now writes Autism policy for the province of Ontario, and like I mentioned, I teach students with autism and am getting my PhD focusing on supporting teacher development in the area, so D’s impact on all of us has been very apparent.

We are the closest, in age and in friendship.

Danny has autism, developmental delays, and acute social anxiety disorder. He was very late to speak, hid under chairs at preschool and I don’t know if he ever spoke at school. He speaks with immediate family, and is actually hilarious (mimes as if he was different characters sometimes, is the pun master) but withdraws around others.

He is incredible at video games, and now writes his own ideas for story lines, character descriptions etc. He has extreme intelligence in some domains and he struggles to function with many elements of daily living. Great with routines, once he has learned them, and predictability and all the rest. He lives with my parents, and stays with me at certain parts of the year so they can get a break/vacation, and because he needs one too!

He goes to a day program that teaches life skills and gets him volunteering stocking shelves a few days a week, and he has a job shredding office documents at my dad’s office. He is usually pretty happy though like all of us has his days where he is overwhelmed by his feelings and can’t understand why everything is so much more difficult for him. A lot of trouble identifying and expressing feelings and their cause.

A few years ago he patted me on the arm and said I was a very nice sister. It was the best compliment I have ever received.

Danny also adores my boyfriend, who once said, without knowing it has always been my plan, that Danny should live with us one day. My heart burst.