April is more than just the beginning of spring, it’s National Autism Awareness Month and a time to embrace the movement towards acceptance and appreciation of everyone with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). We aspire to practice these values every day at Vera Bradley, but this month it is a cause close to our hearts.
Tens of thousands of people face an autism diagnosis each year and a few of these people are connected to our Vera Bradley family. We sat down with Jenn, Vera Bradley employee and mom to five-year-old Grayson, and talked about the impact ASD has on her son and her role as a mom. Inspiring and encouraging, Jenn’s experience raising a young boy with autism is one to savor and share this Mother’s Day.
Tell us a little bit about autism and how it affects your family.
Some of the bigger challenges [with autism] are behavior and communication. I think publicly it’s difficult because people see Grayson and they see an average looking five-year-old boy, but on the inside he’s quite different. He really struggles to communicate verbally. He struggles to express feelings and things that I think mothers of typically developing children might take for granted…
“Oh you’re crying, what happened?”
“Oh, I fell down and scraped my knee.”
Well, an autistic child may not be able to communicate that. So, all of the sudden they start crying and you have no idea what’s wrong and they can’t tell you… And they’re five years old. So, you really have to be in-tune with those nonverbal cues. You have to just be really intuitive and trust yourself.
There’s only so much you can read and learn in a book. Some of it is just your motherly instinct. The keys to raising an autistic child are to trust your gut and have a lot of empathy. You have to put yourself in their shoes to be able to help them and give them what they need.
That is really helpful advice! What are some of your other tips for on-the-go moms with young children?
There are key features in handbags that I look for because I have a child I may need to, at any moment, pick up and go. There are two bags that I go back and forth with, specifically when I’m out and about with Grayson – I just need something hands-free.
The first bag is the Carson Shoulder Bag because it can adjust to a shoulder bag or I can go hands-free and wear it as a crossbody. When I’m not with Grayson, I prefer a shoulder bag and I like that this bag gives me options.
The other bag I carry is the Midtown Cargo Backpack. I really love this one because I can fit more in it and sometimes I wear it backwards. If Grayson is getting a little ramped up and he needs to calm down, I’ll distract him a little bit and say, “Do you want a piggyback ride?” He loves piggyback rides, so if he’s wound up, that will distract him.
I will wear the backpack in front so he can ride on my back. That’s a really helpful trick when I need to check out at the grocery store. It’s so easy to wear the backpack on my front because then I have access to my wallet, I’m hands-free when he’s on my back, and I know that he is safe.
VB: What are the essentials that you always have in your bag when you’re with Grayson?
- A mini communications book with velcro pictures. If he has trouble communicating what he needs, we pull out his picture book.
- Snacks, of course
- An iPad Mini for focus time. If we are in an area with wide open spaces, he will wander and he can get away from me very easily. The iPad is just a way to keep him safe and close to me.
- A coupon book
What can people do to aid in autism awareness?
When you’re out in public, don’t make assumptions that if a kid is misbehaving that they can always help what’s happening. When you’re [a mom] in those situations, you’re stressed and a kind smile goes a long way.
Lastly, are there resources that you recommend to other parents who have children with autism?
If you’d like to support families and individuals with autism, you can learn more at Autism Speaks.