We are Donna’s parents, and the grandparents of her children, Alisha, Bianca, and Jayden. As grandparents, we always want what is best for our grandchildren, all of them. We want to support our children and grandchildren and protect them from the cruelties of the world. So, when someone tries to tell you that one of your grandchildren is ‘not normal’, it is difficult to accept.
Of course, it’s very easy for us to say that Jayden (like all our grandchildren) is perfect. 10 out of 10. Absolutely no problem. And he is perfect, because different doesn’t mean he’s not perfect.
We don’t think we will ever forget the day our daughter, Donna, told us that our youngest grandson, Jayden, was being tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It was a terrible day. We thought to ourselves, “But what for? He’s only little (just over 2), he’ll start talking like other kids soon. He’s a third child and a boy, so he’s just a bit lazy.” We thought that perhaps Donna was stressing over nothing. She just kept saying, “Something is different”.
But Donna wasn’t stressing about nothing. The results came back, and Jayden was diagnosed with ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder. Straight away, we started thinking that he will be isolated from other children and people would look at him differently because he has a disorder. We were in complete shock. And then denial set in. We couldn’t accept that we were being told he was different to the norm. But, aren’t we all different, in one way or another? We all look different, we all make a living in different ways, is anyone ever really the same as the next person? We became very confused trying to understand what we should accept as ‘normal’.
Thankfully, in some respects, time has proven us wrong. Mainly because after the results, Donna and Fred were very proactive and enrolled Jayden in all the therapies that he needed (most of which we hadn’t even heard of until Donna explained them to us). Therapies such as speech (because he wasn’t talking at all at the age of 2), social groups (as we were quickly learning that for children on the Spectrum these skills do not necessarily come naturally, they need to be taught) and Occupational Therapy (because Jayden had very weak core strength and fine motor skills). By taking part in these therapies, Jayden started talking, he improved in his communications and social skills with other children his age, and he is slowly improving his fine motor skills. The therapies are hard work, but Jayden is amazing and devotes so many hours a week to do these therapies with his parents and his therapists.
As grandparents, we care for Jayden while his parents are working, so there was a lot for us to learn. Little things that we took for granted, like how to talk to him and reason with him (to avoid meltdowns), how to teach him to do things for himself and how to explain things to him so he can understand. These were all different for Jayden, so we had to adapt to his way of learning. For example, Donna completed a course on communicating with visual cards/pictures (known as PECS – Picture Exchange Communication Systems). So, we needed to learn to use these visual cards/pictures when we wanted to teach Jayden new skills like toilet training. Whilst learning new tasks for Jayden may have taken a bit longer, so far, our beautiful grandchild has achieved most things put before him. In fact, it still makes us giggle that Donna and Fred taught Jayden how to use a timer, to help with transitioning between one activity and another, and now he is so clever that he can set the timer himself (and has also figured out how to make it longer than 5 mins when he doesn’t want to go to bed – or catch his parents out when they try to make it shorter than 5 mins!).
Also, because Donna and Fred kept in constant contact with his kindergarten educators, they have all gotten to know his interests and his challenges, so Jayden is doing extremely well at kindergarten. He joins in with most activities (sometimes in his own way) and he is learning every day how to share and play with other children. He has also surprised us in these extreme situations of isolation during COVD19. We have been blown away with how well he adjusted to the changes and embraced ‘Zoom’ appointments with his speech therapist and Occupational Therapies. He’s taken part in all the activities given to him online.
At times, it was hard for us to see Donna and Fred be so public about Jayden’s diagnosis, but slowly, we have learnt that by letting other people know that Jayden is on the Autism Spectrum, Jayden can get help and improve his way of life.
The misconception about Autism
It’s amazing how happy Jayden is and how he lights up our home when he comes over. To us, that is normal, and that is what we should expect from everyone. He has made us realise how much us ‘normal’ people take life too seriously. We live stressed out lives, we waste a lot of our borrowed time, and then when we die, we’re told to “rest in peace”. A concept that humanity finds very difficult.
We are always amazed how people can underestimate a person because they don’t understand their intelligence or can’t keep up with them. How people can judge others so easily without taking the time to try and understand them. It’s very easy for people to find faults in others purely because they are different. To just assume their way is the right way.
Now, we will be completely honest, we don’t understand much about what Autism is, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. We prefer to look at our beautiful grandson for who he is, not what his ‘diagnosis’ is. We wouldn’t want to change anything about Jayden because he makes us so happy. All our special moments, like when he starts climbing all over his grandfather, or when we put music on and he instantly starts dancing and jumping around, which he absolutely loves. He is just filled with so much joy.
So, yes, Jayden is on the Spectrum, but he’s getting all the help that is available to him and he will be ok, in his own way. Our hopes are that he keeps getting the support he needs and he continues to enjoy the journey of life and becomes whatever he wants to be. He will succeed in life and take whatever road the GPS in his mind takes him on. We hope he never loses his care-free attitude, his genuine happiness and his ability to make everyone around him happy. To us, he’s still our beautiful precious little grandson, and we love him to the moon and back.