Thursday, December 9, 2010

For What It Is Worth

I always enjoy reading books, articles or blogs with advice on how to handle different parenting situations. The best, of course, are those that come from someone on the front lines. I have been meaning to share my "worldly" advice on issues I deal with daily. Since our family has a few different medical or educational needs, I will just touch on two of them- food allergies and autism.

My first advice on dealing with food allergy in children is to downplay it when you can. Yes, if the child is severely allergic, they must be made aware, of course, and the school and everyone that comes in contact with the child needs to know the safe foods, or what to do if the child does have a reaction to something. But, the food allergy should not define the child, or make him feel strikingly different from his peers. Almost everyone has some sort of food allergy, sensitivity, or simply foods they do not care for. It has helped me a lot to point this out to my kids. The less limiting you make their allergy sound, the less limited they feel. Try to go to restaurants that list allergens online or have a helpful staff. Instead of looking at a menu and immediately telling your child what he or she cannot have, instead list what IS allowed. Sometimes, that list will actually be quite long. All of this being said, it is hard to constantly see certain foods (peanut, soy, or whatever your child's allergen is), as a form of poison. It is frustrating to always have to pack snacks for play dates,school or birthday parties. There are times I do find myself daydreaming about taking all three of my kids for a relaxing afternoon of pizza and ice cream. But, they have managed to branch out quite a bit, obtaining a taste for veggie sushi, hummus and salmon. My oldest children have become quite responsible about knowing what they can or cannot eat, or asking the right questions if they are unsure. My two year old will follow in those footsteps; I have no doubt!

The "biggie" on many parents' "what do I do now" moments is that time your child is diagnosed with some form of autism. Oh, how I truly want to hug everyone in that position right now and whisper, "it will be ok," even though I understand how hard that is to hear at first. The best advice I can give on raising a child with autism is this: Make memories with your kid. It is easier said than done. You have to mentally set aside time in which your brain will not be comparing him or her to peers, worrying what others think, or dwelling on milestones. You must find a way to be in the moment so that someday when you look back on this, you remember blowing bubbles, warm days at the park or family game night rather than a sea of appointments and uncertainty. Of course, as with any child, you need to accept your autistic child for who they are, and help them to do the same. I can say there will be moments to make you so proud you will cry with joy, just as there will be moments that will bring you to your knees in despair. Remember that you are not alone. There are billions of other parents sharing some form of your experiences with this disorder.

Every parents is a seasoned veteran in many areas. Food allergies and autism are just two of the issues that touch my heart, and that I like to try and help others with if they need or want the support. I definitely don't claim to be an expert in anything, but sometimes hearing one voice say, "I understand" is invaluable.

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