Louise Cummins is a single mother to Lachlan, who was diagnosed with autism at age three. Four years on, she's embraced the diagnosis and has just published a book to help her son understand and celebrate his uniqueness. Here, she shares her journey to acceptance and some wonderful advice ahead of World Autism Day on April 2.
When I was pregnant I was so excited to think about my son's future. I dreamt of him doing amazing things and taking the world by storm.
After 18 months, I could see Lachlan was different. He was happy, but I found he was always running around and not interacting like other kids. He was just in his own world. As time went on his energy levels became worse and family and friends kept questioning my parenting.
After a series of assessments (including a childcare visit) I received a call from our developmental paediatrician with the news; 'Yes, I'm afraid your son does have autism'.
Some people feel relieved at the diagnosis but my heart just smashed into a million pieces. This particular paediatrician then painted a picture of the worst-case scenario; 'It was unlikely he would live independently, have friends or have a job'. it was at that point, he took away the one thing parents need…hope.
Over the next four years, I threw myself and Lachlan, into early intervention to prove that specialist wrong. The trouble was there was no clear-cut path for early intervention with so many choices. We did everything – from lying in hammocks, behavioural therapy, music therapy, water therapy, speech therapy, and even alternative therapies.
One thing was clear, our world now revolved around therapy and all experts kept telling me we were still not doing enough. After spending most of my savings we started seeing improvements but we were both exhausted.
After one particularly gruelling week, my little man was watching Trolls on his iPad and the 'True Colours' song started playing. He had never really sung before and he said 'Mummy listen to this' and he sang it. When he sang 'your true colours are beautiful like a rainbow' tears rolled down my cheeks. I realised at that moment the person I needed to change the most wasn't him…it was me.
I set out on a mission to find hope in our diagnosis. I researched success stories, deleted negative news feeds on my social media and focused on making my little man the best version of himself. I started to embrace his quirkiness (like carrying around a sweet potato instead of a teddy bear). I even felt braver to respond to people's negativity and regained confidence in my parenting.
For Lachlan's Christmas present last year, I decided to write a book for him to understand his autism. A story featuring famous people in history who had autism, such as Einstein, Michelago, and Mozart, who all used their special autistic gifts to change the world. I wanted him to see his uniquely wired brain as a gift, not a curse.
Lachlan loved his book and I did extra copies to help our 'village' understand him. Their support was overwhelming and more orders from friends of friends started coming, so I decided to launch the book online. I was overwhelmed once the website went live with people sharing it all over the world.
My goal for the book is to spread the word of acceptance of differences and make children on the spectrum feel more confident about their uniquely wired brains.
Lachlan is now thriving and he's the most amazing, unique, funny amazing little man and we can now see a mainstream school in our future. I no longer stress bout the future as I've regained the one thing all parents need…hope.
Every journey is so different but here are my top tips of how I restored hope:
1. Remember you will have bad days
Both you and your child will have bad days. My tip is be gentle on yourself and do things that work for you. On the bad days, I choose to not look at social media and I don't over plan activities. Instead, I take the time to speak with friends and family, who I know will support me
2. Don't listen to everyone who wants to give you feedback
You will find everyone and anyone has a different opinion of how and what to do. However, no one knows your child, like you do. Be selective on the stories you take on board and trust yourself.
3. Remove negativity
Remove yourself from social media and negative newsfeeds – there's a lot of people doing it really tough and need to vent. If you aren't in a good place this can bring you down.
4. 90 days…only 90 days
Someone said our little people change so much so don't project into their future. None of your predictions either good or bad are likely to come true. All you can control is what in the next 90 days can you do to enable your child to flourish.
5. Their best version
Accept your role is just about making your child the best version of themselves – not about the best version of who you think they should be.
6. Embrace your child's quirkiness and embrace what they love
If they love LEGO or Monster Trucks or rocks – learn everything you can about them – make sure you stay in their world.
7. Sadly, you may need be prepared to lose friends
Not just the ones that make snide comments but those that speak by their actions of exclusion. This is really hard but along this journey you realise who genuine. In my case I've only lost 1 or 2 friends so I've been luckier than most – which is so sad.
Then blend the advice and work on an early intervention plan and strategies that work for you.
9. Accept the diagnosis but remember a label doesn't define someone
This can be very hard and to be honest, I am still on this journey.
10. Every child is different
If you've met a child with autism it's important to know you have met one child with autism – and they aren't representative of everyone with autism. It's like saying I've met an Australian so therefore I know everything about you. Don't compare and embrace your child for being the amazing unique little person they are.
Louise's book A Different Kind of Brilliant is available for purchase for $24.95 at adifferentkindofbrilliant.com - 10% of all Australian direct sales from the website will be donated to Autism Spectrum Australia.