“Love your child exactly as he is. We often think we need to ‘fix’ our children with autism, but in actuality we need to learn how their minds work and use their strengths to help them become the best version of themselves.” Julie Hornok, author of United in Autism, Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum.
By Ron Sandison
- What was your inspiration for writing United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum?
Through a local non-profit, we had been doing events that pampered moms of kids diagnosed with autism for seven years. Every year, I wanted to send the moms home with an inspirational book that would remind them that they were not alone. The moms needed to know that no matter how much their child progressed, they would be ok. I couldn’t find this book, so I decided to write it.
- How did you choose the 30 families whose stories you share in your book?
I wanted to choose parents that had risen above their tough circumstances and then used what they learned to help others. Every parent in the book has immersed herself in charity work. I also wanted to highlight parents from all different cultures, countries, races and means.
- In writing your book what were some lessons you learned?
I learned that the understanding and acceptance of autism is vastly different country by country and also state by state within the United States. We “neurotypicals” have so much more to learn and understand about the autistic mind and how we can best serve them with the love and dignity that will help them reach their full potential.
- What advice would you give parents whose child was recently diagnosed with autism?
Love your child exactly as he is. We often think we need to “fix” our children with autism, but in actuality we need to learn how their minds work and use their strengths to help them become the best version of themselves. Also, keep a marathon mindset. As parents, we want to do everything possible to help our kids, but we ourselves burn out. When we forget to take care of ourselves, our kids can feel our stress. Slow down and remember the little steps of progress will add up.
- How can churches provide support for families who have children with autism?
The role of the church is to be the hands and feet of Christ, and that means meeting our needs exactly as we are. Churches need to take the time to get to know each individual family and ask them how you can best serve them. Each child will have different needs and will need personalized support to be successful in the church environment. A common roadblock voiced is the lack of volunteers to give the necessary one-on-one attention. I would encourage those setting up a program within their church to remember God is bigger than this issue. He will provide.
- How did you handle the feelings of isolation and discouragement when your daughter was diagnosed with autism?
Not in a healthy way that’s for sure. It is easy to look back now and see my mistakes, but in the moment, I was devastated. I shoved my feelings down, did not deal with them, and poured myself fully into her therapy program. I now know this was not healthy for me or for her. If I could go back, I would have slowed down and allowed myself to grieve the life I thought we would have. I would have recognized sooner that the sweetness in life is in the journey, not the destination.
- What advice would you give to parents who hope to find a school that is a good fit for their child?
It is super important to find a school that recognizes your child’s strengths and uses them to help him learn. The environment must be positive and uplifting with teachers that are willing to take the time to understand your child’s individualized needs.
- What were some of the ways you taught your daughter Lizzie social skills?
We have worked consistently on social skills since she was very young. I arranged playdates with a friend from her school and a therapist in our home weekly. First, we worked on the basics like turn-taking, then moved to gross motor games, then more complex play. Thoughtfulness and being considerate is the foundation of any good friendship, so we worked on thinking from the other person’s perspective and finding ways to make the other person enjoy her time in our home. We spent a lot of time planning each playdate before it actually happened to ensure it would be successful.
- How can parents help their child with autism discover new activities?
When Lizzie was younger, she had a really hard time doing anything that wasn’t in her routine. We found that making a detailed social story with real pictures helped prepare her and even allowed her to look forward to new activities. I would go before each new activity and take pictures and map out exactly what her time would be like to decrease any anxiety the new activity would cause. The more she tried new things, the easier it was. I was able to do less and less detailed social stories as time went on, and now we don’t need to use them at all. Consistency and slowly pulling back on the support as your child is more and more capable is key.
- What are somethings you wished you would’ve done different? And why?
I would have done a better job taking care of myself. As moms, we are only as healthy as our sickest child, so it is really difficult to force ourselves to take the time we need to stay physically and emotionally strong.
- Please share a humorous autism story.
When Lizzie began expressing herself with more words, I was elated! I had longed to understand what she was thinking and know more of her personality. But, sometimes the words that came out of her mouth did not sit well with the people around her.
In elementary school, she had four pregnant teachers and became very curious about pregnancy. She began asking anyone, male or female, with even the slightest belly, if they were pregnant. People did not find this funny, so we had to make a rule that she wasn’t allowed to ask anyone if they were pregnant anymore. She is very smart and found a way to get around this rule. One time she saw a man with a giant belly, went right up to him, pulled up his shirt, patted his bare belly and asked him, “What you got in there?”
Julie Hornok’s Bio
Julie Hornok is an author, speaker, event planner and advocate for autism. Her writing has appeared in Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, AutismSpot, Thrive Magazine, Literary Mama, Chicken Soup for the Soul series and many more. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, was released in October of 2018 and is available at UnitedinAutism.com or Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/United-Autism-Finding-Strength-Spectrem
When Julie isn’t busy driving her three kids all around town, she loves to bring free pampering events to special needs moms through United in Autism. Join her United in Autism Facebook Community for interviews with inspiring autism parents and experts from around the world. Connect with Julie at UnitedinAutism.com.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org