April is Autism Awareness Month, and as a mother to a child diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), I wanted to tap in and share a little bit about my experience.
A couple of weeks ago, I sat at a stop light, mulling over the frustrations of a conversation I had just finished having with my son’s teacher, who is a nice lady, but who is inexperienced in teaching children on the spectrum. I was deep in thought when I looked in my rearview mirror at my four-year-old, who was happily reciting numbers and looking out the window as we drove to his afterschool therapy session. It occurred to me at that moment that my experience as a marketer and agency owner has equipped me with the skills and temperament necessary to create a supportive environment for him and to be a strong advocate for his needs.
How Marketing Has Helped Me As An Advocate for Autism
I often tell my close friends that I feel as if advocacy is one of the aspects of parenthood that doesn’t get discussed enough when folks are pushing you to have kids! Over the past year, our son has been enrolled in the public school system, and advocating for him has been a significant part of our experience. As a marketer and agency owner, I've found that the skills I've developed through my work have been incredibly useful in my efforts to create an environment that supports my child, as well as helping me understand him.
When I think about it, advocacy is actually a huge part of marketing--when you’re a marketer, you’re constantly developing messaging, and campaigns, and sharing stories to advocate for your clients. In understanding how to best create a healthy and supportive environment for our son--we’ve had to truly champion him! Through our interactions with various assessments, school education plans, different therapies, classroom settings, and the professionals who run those spaces, we are constantly taking in data about our child, as well as sharing it. When you have a child in the school system with special needs, the meetings and written observations are pretty constant.
Currently, we are identifying the best kindergarten program for our son, and it has felt similar to launching a campaign. School tours, interest meetings, and phone calls have become a regular part of our schedule. We’re meeting teachers and administrators and telling his story. We’re evaluating their environment and culture. We’re communicating with them, and evaluating how they communicate with us. We’re doing all of this so that we can be sure our little guy is going to have a kick-ass school year when the fall starts!
Communicating With and For My Child On the Spectrum
When my husband and I first received the diagnosis, we took the morning off from work and went to breakfast. Over coffee and pancakes, we were honest with one another about how the diagnosis made us feel, and we both concluded that our bright and loving boy would be surrounded by love, support, and professional services that would allow him to understand himself and learn how to navigate the world around him. Ever the communicator, I composed a message to our closest family and friends informing them of his diagnosis so that they would go on this journey with us. As part of his village, it was imperative to us that they understood that we’d be learning and we were inviting them to do the learning with us!
Communication is a huge part of being a marketer, some would say it’s the main part. And if you’re a parent reading this, then you know that communication is also a big part of parenting. If you’re a parent with a child on the spectrum--you know it’s a huge part of parenting! As a professional communicator and a business owner, I’ve found that I have been able to rely on those skills to effectively speak with and interact with my son. Some of his behaviors include scripting, repetitive actions, hyperfocus, and eloping. The skills I’ve developed as a communicator help me understand how to redirect him, while still affirming the things he needs to be able to do to calm his nervous system.
I’ve also learned how to communicate for my son, while he is verbal and learning more and more each day how to clearly communicate his thoughts, there are ways in which I’ve learned how to speak for him. As an agency owner, you learn pretty quickly that not only do you have to speak on behalf of your clients through various marketing efforts, but sometimes you have to speak up to them. Even those clients with the best intentions can sometimes talk down to you as they attempt to work through their own frustrations. Learning how to regulate my own emotions and communicate effectively, has helped me when it comes to speaking with teachers, school administrators, and others who may have developed an inaccurate picture of my son and what he’s capable of.
Marketing Is Predicting Behaviors…Just Like Parenting
Another significant aspect of marketing is taking a look at human behavior and then deciding how you can position a brand, person, product, or service in a way that is appealing to the humans you’re attempting to persuade. You are constantly trying to assess how a person will respond and react to your message, and if your message will get them to do what you want them to. There’s a lot of trial and error, and also a lot of success! That is a lot like parenting, regardless of the neurological makeup of your child--assessing their behavior and then trying to predict how they will respond, and hoping that you’ve done your due diligence in order to get them to respond how you’d like is a big part of the parenting process!
And this is not to say that parenting is all about predicting behaviors for the sake of compliance (or in the case of marketing, conversion), but as you navigate the day-to-day responsibilities of life, it is helpful if you’ve set the stage for your little ones to move about the world easily.
When it comes to my child specifically, he thrives with routine and predictability. And at his age and with the way his brain works, transitions are especially difficult for him. Therefore, it’s important that I assess his behavior appropriately, and make sure my message (and the environment) is received in such a way that he can react and respond in ways that will allow him to have an easier experience.
We have had our fair share of meltdowns during our morning routine, while dining out, on trips, and just about anywhere else you can think of. I’ve learned to focus my attention on my son as I redirect his attention, prompt him to verbally communicate his needs (“use your words buddy”) and help him regulate his emotions through various strategies rooted in clear communication. I zero in on him and how the environment we are in is affecting him, versus how he is affecting the environment--in other words, I don’t care about dirty looks from nearby people who have no clue that he just bit into a hot nugget and it triggered a meltdown.
I’m no ASD expert and so I won’t go into the specifics of the things we do beyond that, but I will say that in addition to tapping into my own skills, we work closely with a team of professionals who are behavior-affirming and have taught us new skills that have helped us tremendously!
Learning Never Stops
In 2016, I had to learn how to be an agency owner, in 2018, I had to learn how to be a mother and in 2021 I had to learn how to be a mother to an autistic child. My son teaches me so much every day and I am open to learning. Much like marketing and business ownership, the learning never stops as a parent. But also like marketing, some of the principles never change. No matter where he goes, who he meets, or what he does--our son will know he is loved, he is worthy, and he is capable.
Throughout my experience, I have come to appreciate the skills and temperament necessary to create a supportive environment and be a strong advocate for my son’s needs. Being a marketer and agency owner has helped me as I tap into my communication skills, ability to manage and predict behaviors, and advocate for my child in various settings. The journey of parenting a child on the spectrum has taught me the importance of effective communication and the power of advocacy. I’ve come to understand that the skills we develop in our professional lives can often come in handy in unexpected ways in our personal lives!
It is my hope that this Autism Awareness Month-inspired post helps bring more awareness and understanding to ASD and encourages others to join us in championing and advocating for children on the spectrum.