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When I Realized I Didn't Need Eye Contact From My Son on the Autism Spectrum

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Any parent of a child with autism will likely tell you about all the different therapies they have tried in order to have the best possible outcome. There’s ABA, floortime, RDI, speech, OT, PT, etc. When my son was diagnosed at the age of 2, we threw everything we had into trying different therapies.  Some therapies even claim your child will be social without noticeable differences if you use their therapy.

Along with other therapies, we tried Relationship Developmental Intervention (RDI) in order to increase social skills.  At first, the therapist worked with our son. However, after a while, all the work was up to the parents. The program has parents video record their interactions with their child so the consultant can critique the techniques used. Parents are told their children should be getting 20 hours a week of therapy. Since most individuals could never afford that much therapy, much of it is left up to the parents.

In the beginning, there was a strong emphasis on getting eye contact. Various strategies were employed to increase eye contact. If I was trying to work with him and the strategies failed to get eye contact, I would feel hopeless.

During the beginning of our journey, I felt very isolated from other families who had typical children.  They were taking their kids to music classes while our son had therapy appointments. Because of this isolation, I sought out my own therapist to talk about how to manage raising a child with autism. At my first appointment, the therapist asked me, “What do you enjoy doing with your child?”

I thought about it, and there was hardly any time I was just enjoying spending time with him. I was always trying to change him. I decided to stop trying to get eye contact every time I interacted with him and our lives got so much better. He and I could just play a board game without having the goal of getting eye contact. We didn’t feel like failures as parents anymore, and we could actually enjoy spending time with our son.

Getting the best outcome for your child is important. However, your relationship with your child is equally important. If you are spending so much time trying to change them that you cannot enjoy each other’s company, your relationship will suffer.  Children need guidance, but they also need parents who love and accept them unconditionally, just as they are.

Getty image by Andrew Olney.

Originally published: February 26, 2020
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