Lots of people know me as a protective mother. It's not a bad thing. Sometimes, I have to be the mama bear to get things done for my child who lives with medically complex needs. It wasn't until my son Jack turned 6 years old that I realized he could really fend for himself and express his own needs. As his mom, I want to empower him and encourage independence.
Today, Jack is 7 years old and lives with SMA Type 1, as well as mild autism disorder. The combination of SMA and autism didn't allow him to have a voice until he was about 4 years old. Jack has worked so hard to build his voice through help from speech therapy, his educational environment, and our family.
“Over the years, I have formed relationships with many teens and adults living with SMA. It has helped so much with my parenting skills.”
One major takeaway from our conversations is that Jack needs to establish independence early on, so he can be even stronger when he reaches adulthood. So, with the help of our home support system, we are teaching Jack about the power he holds over his own life.
It was about a year ago when my eyes really opened. We were at the hospital, and Jack was being prepped to start an IV infusion. The nurse was looking for a vein on his right arm. Then Jack suddenly told the nurse that the better arm was the left one and to please not use the loud thing. He meant the jtip, which is a needle-free anesthetic and is very loud. Jack does not like the sound of it and sternly voiced his own concerns. It made me so proud to see that he could advocate for himself.
At school, Jack can get emotionally and physically fatigued from the busy school day. He knows that he can simply raise his hand to call his teacher and ask for a break. Often, he needs mental breaks. He's free to roll to the sensory room for a few moments to refresh himself or to have a snack. At home, he will ask for help when he can't reach a toy and is very good at communicating exactly what he wants to eat.
I watch my son live with SMA, and I see it's a daily struggle to get all his basic needs met. He needs help with coughing, showering, toileting, changing his clothes, taking his medications, preparing food, and the list goes on. Before Jack had a voice, we used to do things as a routine, saying it's time to do this or time to do that. I have learned that it's better to encourage him to tell us when he needs something. As a protective mom, I used to think I knew Jack better than he knew himself. The truth is that he really deserves more credit. That's something I learned from my many opportunities engaging with other members of the SMA community.