The multiple sides of autism, from a parent’s perspectiveBack to feature: Autism Matters – to Everyone
Photo of Hon. Mike Lake, PC Member of Parliament for Edmonton – Mill Woods – Beaumont, Father of a teenager with autism.
Mike and his wife Debi have two children: son Jaden, 17, and daughter Jenae, 13. Jaden was diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half years old. Since then, Mike and Debi have been active members of the Autism Society of Edmonton Area and other autism organizations across the country, dedicating time and energy to raising global awareness of autism.
Mike Lake spoke with CIHR about his experiences as the parent of a child with autism.
What was your initial reaction when your son was diagnosed with autism?
For us, the original diagnosis didn’t come as a surprise. Jaden was diagnosed at two-and-a-half years old, but six months earlier, we had read a book about a boy who had autism, and we could have been reading about Jaden. When I think back to my mindset before Jaden was born, though, the idea of having a child with autism would have scared the heck out of me.
What are the challenges faced by children with autism and their families?
There are many challenges facing people with autism and their families, throughout the entire lifespan. Originally, there is the question of where to start when you get the original diagnosis. How can you communicate with your child? Many people with autism have a really difficult time communicating abstract concepts, like emotions or pain.
The education system can also be difficult to navigate. Should we integrate into a regular classroom or send our child to a school that specializes in autism?
Once school is finished, then what? How can an adult with autism meaningfully contribute using their unique skills and interests? Where will they live? If they live at home, how will that affect the parents’ employment situation? Finally, what will happen to the child when the parents are gone?
What opportunities have you had as a parent of a child with autism?
First, I’d say that, contrary to what I’d have thought before Jaden was born, being the parent of a child with autism has been a remarkable experience, in a good way. At 17, Jaden doesn’t know how to be mean to people, or even when people are being mean to him. He really loves people without condition, something that we talk about and may even aspire to, but rarely ever experience in our society.
I have had the unique and very special opportunity as a Member of Parliament to share Jaden with the rest of the world, to help others understand autism, and to support families like mine who live with autism every day of the year.
How is research contributing to our understanding of this condition?
I’m not an expert on autism, but I’m an expert on being a parent of a child with autism. It seems that every day, we learn more about the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to autism, how to help children with autism to develop, and how to train adults with autism to play an active and very productive role in society.
That said, autism is still very much a mystery. There is much work left to do, and we are very blessed to have some of the world’s best autism researchers right here in Canada searching for answers.
What are some of the ways we help improve the lives of people who live with autism and their families?
I think it is absolutely critical that we continue to work to raise awareness of autism. As with any individual, with or without autism, challenges and opportunities come as a package. If we work to understand and address the challenges, the opportunities will be unlocked in ways, and with potential, we could have never imagined.
Visit his website to learn more about Mike.
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