Our April Woman of the Month is a terrific woman I had the pleasure of reaching out to- Mrs. Candice Webb. April is Autism Awareness Month and Candice is a proud mother of an extraordinary individual-Tre!
If you’ve been with me for a while you know that before being home with my littles, I was a bilingual elementary school teacher. I’ve had students in my classroom that are on the spectrum, but I wanted to dig deeper and get some insight from a parent’s point of view.
Candice gracefully accepted my request to answer a couple questions about their autism journey. Below are her answers:
When did the autism journey begin for your family?
My journey began in 2003. My son was 3 yrs and 5 months at the time.
Do you feel you were well educated on the subject early on?
I really had no idea what autism really was at the time. The only autistic person I had even seen depicted was Rain Man.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for you?
We face many challenges, but we don’t let them stop us. I always say Autism doesn’t define my son. He has an Autism diagnosis, autism doesn’t have him. If I had to narrow it down, I guess it is the fact that my son can unpredictable at times. I can read him sometimes, but often times it is difficult. He can be quite moody. One moment he will be full of laughter and the next he may have a full blown meltdown. I always tell people Autism is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get! Sleepless nights is another! My son really doesn’t sleep much and he never has! On average he sleeps may 4hrs a day and that may not be 4 consecutive hours. He often times wakes up in the wee hours of the morning and normally raids the fridge and trashes the kitchen, but there are times when he wakes up disgruntled, having a full blown meltdown and you don’t know why? At the end of the day the main issue is lack of communication! The fact that he can’t effectively communicate is the main issue. However, although he is nonverbal, there are many times that I hear him loud and clear!
What are 3 things you wish everyone knew about autism?
1. Many Autistic individuals are nonverbal, but just because they don’t speak, doesn’t mean they can’t hear. My son dislikes when you speak about him to other people. He is also very protective of his little sister! You have to watch your tone when speaking to her because he will come running to see what is transpiring!
2. Just because it may be difficult for them to engage, doesn’t mean that all individuals on the spectrum don’t want to do so. Many want social interaction and want to be included. The environment may be part of the problem. Many individuals in our community have sensory issues so lights, sounds, smells, etc. can often times play a major role in what it may appear that they don’t want to partake in activities because they become frustrated.
3. There is a huge myth about the fact that Autistic individuals being unaffectionate. In fact I personally know many that are quite the opposite! My son is one of them! He often times just randomly walks up to us and kisses us on the forehead, or puts his forehead to ours (we call that at Tre kiss), and he even loves eskimo kisses! He also loves taking my hand and holding it randomly while we are walking! It is a blessing that he still holds my hand although he is approaching 20! (Contrary to popular belief, autism doesn’t stop at 18) His little sister is his favorite person though, he shows her more affection than all of us!
What is something no one talks about regarding autism that you had to learn on your own?
I had to learn most of what I know on my own. When my son was diagnosed in 2003 Autism really wasn’t very prevalent. My son was already in school when we got the diagnosis and they couldn’t even lead me in the right direction. I spend hrs researching information online and fighting with insurance companies for therapy coverage. His 1st pediatrician didn’t even think anything was wrong. At one visit she told me “he is just spoiled and you proactively give him what he wants before he can request anything so that is why he doesn’t speak.” That was actually untrue and we had to seek help on our own. We really lost his most important developmental yrs because of this. I truly believe that early intervention works. I feel that my son would have progressed much more had he been given that opportunity.
What advice do you have for mothers with newly diagnosed children?
First of all, don’t compare your child to another child (with or without autism). They are all different and what works for one may not work for the other. With that being said, you may have to try several strategies to achieve the goal that you are trying to get your child to accomplish. I highly suggest pacing yourself and not setting too many goals at one time because consistently is the key! You may have to do the same time hundreds of times for them to get it. Celebrate baby steps! This will be for you and your child! If they successfully complete one step toward the goal, reward them and yourself! YOU DESERVE IT! It takes a dedicated parent to raise any child, and even more so for a uniquely abled one! Also, if you don’t agree with a doctor, teacher, etc. get a second opinion! You are their parent and if your gut is telling you something, listen to it. And also don’t let them set limits for
your child. You never know what they can achieve! They can do more than you know! I have heard so many parents tell me that their doctors/therapists/teachers told them what their kids will never do! DO NOT LISTEN TO THE NEGATIVITY! You are your child’s biggest advocate! Fight for them! I also suggest finding a support group. You can engage online through Facebook! I co-founded one with an amazing Autism mom friend turned family member Belinda Hernandez! It is called Special Moms Support Group on Facebook. Most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP!
What do you think schools can do to better help autistic children?
I feel that schools should take the feedback from the caregivers more than they do. Although they know that autism is not “cookie cutter” they often times still try to teach this way. Also they need more staff and they need to actually be properly trained to deal with our children! You can’t just throw our children at someone that doesn’t understand autism at all and expect a positive result! It in fact is a recipe for disaster that will leave the staff member and child stressed out. Also schools should offer ABA therapy. Some families don’t want their children to receive it and it shouldn’t be forced upon them, but many do and those that do should be able to receive it at school and privately. In addition to this, I feel that schools that really are not equipped to handle the workload off any individual with autism, no matter the severity, should stop saying that they can and just gracefully bow out. Pay for them to be transported to and from a facility that can properly care for them and teach them the skills they need to be as successful as they can be!
What do you think the community can do to be more supportive?
Communities can be supportive by educating their neurotypical children that everyone is different and that doesn’t mean that they are any less than them. They should promote trying to befriend them, and not ridicule and make fun or laugh at them! Inclusion is something that I am passionate about and that is why I started my son’s group We Rock Autism. We had planned to really kick things off this summer, but our outings are on hold due to this is pandemic
How do you go about discipline?
I do believe in discipline! I also believe that the “time has to fit the crime.” Try not to react out of frustration (trust me I know it can be difficult!) One has to try to ask themselves does YOUR child understand what he/she just did? Try explaining with as few words as possible that you are not pleased with the behavior and that it is not appropriate. And it needs to be immediate if possible. If you have pics to reference that also helps. When Tre was younger we did spank, but we stopped as he got older. I honestly wish that I wouldn’t have some of those times, few were actually warranted. We didn’t even know he had autism when we started popping him on the hand, but he understood because he would look at you to see what your reaction would be before he would do certain things. After the diagnosis we didn’t and probably will never fully understand Autism. Spanking him actually made him a little aggressive so we stopped. Now, I will say obviously he didn’t like it because if he sees the belt it helps me to get him to somewhat do what I need him to do. For an example, when he is having or we can see that his behaviors may lead to a a meltdown we removed him from the environment he is in. When we are home sometimes he doesn’t want to comply when it comes to me (he doesn’t give Dad much of a hard time). Just showing him a belt often times works. When he does things now, we take away his beloved tablet. I believe taking way something that they show interest in and explaining why they can’t have it works better! Some kids mimic what they see so it can make them think hitting is how you respond when are unhappy and it may also make some aggressive. If you have a child that is already aggressive, spanking will more than likely be tragic! If explaining doesn’t work try pecs and/or social stories.
Finally, do you practice self care?
I practice self-care daily! I try to do something for myself everyday. It may not be anything major, but it is for me. I meditate, do yoga, and workout. I know some people say that is not stress relief, but it is! It helps with so many aspects. Makes your heart healthy and combats many diseases and diagnoses so hopefully you can be around for your child(ren) longer (after all who is going to take better care of them than you), it gives you a sense of accomplishment, and working out releases endorphins which gives you a feeling of joy. Sometimes I watch a tv show, it may be at 3 am when I should be asleep because I never know when my son will wake up, but hey I got my me time… or I may take the time to talk to a friend! Also our Special Moms group tries to have monthly meet ups while the children are in school so we get that much needed girl time and I also have a group of amazing girlfriends that I that I try to meet with monthly as well. There was a time when I didn’t do so and I was stressed out and crying daily, not just because of autism, but autism and everything else in life was overwhelming. I told myself I would never have another bad day in Nov. 2013 and I haven’t since then! There is something beautiful that happens everyday, it is up to us to see it! FIND THE BEAUTY IN EVERYTHING!
So what did you think about Candice’s spotlight Mami? Pretty fabulous lady rocking her role as Trey’s mom!
As you know, every WOTM has a freebie for our readers. This month’s freebie is an invitation to join her FB group where you can join and feel supported in a community that is all for empowering other special moms! HERE is the link to the group.
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