By Sandy Howarth
Key Themes: Autism, mother’s story, education, emotional and behavioural issues and coping teaching strategies and research
I am a mother of a fifteen year old Autistic boy. My child Steven was diagnosed as being severely Autistic with a severe receptive language disorder at two and a half years of age.
My book outlines the first hand experience that has been gained from my son Steven. The book has been written to assist and offer support to families, to create awareness of the subject of Autism and to demonstrate the complexities in brain development by comparing ‘typical’ development with ‘Autistic’ development.
The book covers the diagnostic process, concerns of parents, coping strategies, teaching methods, behaviour strategies, research being carried out on the subject, recognising educational needs, my child’s developmental history and my approach to Autism. It also talks of finding an appropriate educational environment and offers practical guidance in this area. It offers guidance in teaching body awareness, developing life skills, building an understanding of the environment and everyday situations.
I gave up my career as an Interior Designer in Dubai to devote my time to Steven and used my creative skills to produce materials to further encourage his learning. I educated myself on the various strategies and the subject of Autism.
About the Author
Sandy was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka to Buddhist parents who were involved in a family owned furniture business. She was the youngest in a family of four children and attended an all girls school. She had a privileged lifestyle where she was completely isolated from any of life’s hardships. Sandy is a descendent of the Anagarika Dharmapala who dedicated his life to spreading Buddhism throughout the world. She was a competitive swimmer and an artist and enjoyed every aspect of growing up in a tropical land.
Sandy worked in the family furniture factory prior to studying Art & Design at Derby Lonsdale College. The family business influence led her to further her studies in Interior Design at The Inchbald School of Design, London. Following her education in the UK she returned to Sri Lanka for a practical training year on a hotel project where she met her future husband. At the end of her training year she moved to New York to further her studies where she graduated with honours from Parsons School of Design. At the completion of her education she returned to Sri Lanka and got married later that year. Following her marriage she moved to London where she lived and worked for three years in hotel design and moved to Dubai for ten years.
Sandy continued her work in Interior Design in Dubai and spent some time in Oman during that time. In April 1994 her first child was born. She thought life was perfect until at two and a half years of age her son Steven was diagnosed Autistic. Her priorities changed where her life became Steven. She abandoned any thoughts of returning to work and decided to teach Steven instead. In March 1999 her daughter Riana was born.
Dubai didn’t have any specialist teaching to help Steven and she decided in July 2000 to return to the UK. Having made many sacrifices to find what she hoped would be a good special needs school provision it soon became evident that his special educational needs were not being met. Following such a let down, she chose to withdraw Steven from the school and educate him at home following a strict home based programme which she delivered herself.
Sandy suffered health issues which took her energy away from focusing on Steven’s education. Having suffered for three years she finally had her health sorted in August 2004 after which she felt that she had been given a new lease of life. She now feels that she has regained her energy to do what is best for Steven and the family.
Steven is now fifteen years old. After continuous struggles trying to obtain the best provision for Steven, Sandy has once again decided to teach Steven herself. She hopes that once Steven makes progress with his learning at home and when she is able to hire extra help to teach him that she will find time to pursue her passion for art and painting.
This has been written to enlighten the public of the immense struggles that individuals and families of Autism and related disorders are faced with. In explaining mental development Autism is observed alongside typical development to further demonstrate the bizarre nature of the condition. Research suggests that the human mind and nervous system remain plastic for a longer period than previously believed and that individuals with Autism are known to develop cognitively throughout their lives.
To manage Autism, learn to first accept Autism, think positively and act positively. Learn to love your child unconditionally, ‘No matter what’ the diagnosis is. This is your child. A positive outlook will gain you the strength, to assist your child in every way. In recognising your acceptance your child will seek assurance from you, which will in turn help create a greater bond between you and your child.
Suggestions are offered to parent(s) who need to find time for themselves too. This will be a hard task at first which can be achieved through patience and perseverance. To bring about achieving any form of progress it is essential to make every obstacle a challenge and treat each step forward as a milestone. Your efforts will offer you the comfort of knowing that you have given your child a chance to reach their maximum potential. Autistic children vary in their behaviour, their level of intelligence and their ability to communicate. Nevertheless, they all fit into the broad Autistic spectrum and they all need help and support.
In the event that your child does not reach the level that you had expected, you can still be assured that you have done the best for your child. It is extremely difficult, almost impossible to predict the future of our children, but what you can do is to work on it now. It is never too late.