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Your child has just been diagnosed with autism. Perhaps you suspected that autism was a possibility or maybe the news is a complete shock. Whatever your feelings might be, there really are no rules for how to respond to this type of news about your child. Feelings are not right or wrong- they are your feelings. The feelings you have are an emotional response to a life-altering event.
A diagnosis of autism most definitely qualifies as a life-altering event. Visions of being a parent at the baby stage, toddler stage, and all throughout the school years are changed. Even the hopes and dreams for your child’s future as an adult are instantly changed by the news.
Worry might set in as you start to consider how things might turn out with relationships, careers, and living independently. These worries are normal, but they are unnecessary and they are not helpful.
Here are some things that ARE helpful when you are trying to acclimate to a new diagnosis of autism:
Take things one day at a time:
You are only able to address the issues of the day. The future is a long way off. Over time, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much your child is capable of and how well he/she navigates through life- especially if your child receives the early intervention.
Don’t blame yourself:
Many parents start to scroll through the list of things that they must have done wrong that caused their child’s autism. Mothers will start regretting a glass of wine that happened before she discovered her pregnancy. Parents will lament about vaccinations. Fathers will blame themselves for smoking. The list grows and grows, but all of the items on the list are unfounded. The only substantiated claim that holds up is that autism does tend to run in families. The rest of the claims are hypothetical and unproven- including nutrition and environment. Nothing has been scientifically proven to cause autism thus far.
Learn as much as you can about autism:
If autism is new to you, your best strategy for eliminating any worry or upset is to get the facts. Talk to your pediatrician, go to the library and check some books out, watch video resources, and seek out success stories from people with autism who are busy doing wonderful things.
Find a support network:
Find a local group with other parents who are going through the same circumstances. Make an effort to reach out and get together with supportive and uplifting friends or relatives. Avoid negative company that frustrates, angers, or saddens you further about your child’s diagnosis. You have a lot of work and support to provide for your child, and it is hard to be supportive when you are depressed.
Don’t forget about your marriage:
Autism can make or break a marriage. But so can finances, job stress, unsolicited advice from outside family, and unforeseen emergencies. To put it another way- there will always be something to deal with in life whether it is a diagnosis of autism or some other stressful news or event. No matter what stressors are happening at the moment, you and your partner need to remind one another that you are in this together and cling to one another during all of this for everyone’s sakes. If counseling is necessary, then by all means, seek counseling. Do whatever it takes to keep your marriage foundation solid for your child(ren) during this time. If a marriage falls apart in the midst of this, it is less likely that your child will receive the help that he/she needs.
Don’t let the child with autism take away from the other children in the family:
Just as your marriage needs careful attention, so do other children in the family. It is very easy to start making everything about the child with the diagnosis while the other children in the family start feeling left out and disregarded. Take inventory and make sure everyone is getting the time and attention that they deserve during all of this newness. Your child with autism will be receiving help for an extended period of time, so it is best to accept this as a part of life and get into a routine that does not leave anyone out of the equation.
Seek early intervention as soon as you are ready- and don’t wait too long:
Take some time to adjust to the news about your child having autism. When you feel ready, start seeking early intervention services for your child. Start with your pediatrician and determine what types of therapy your child may need. Your pediatrician can help you find the right resources to assess your child for speech and communication deficits, learning deficits, and motor skills. The earlier these services are started for your child, the more likely it is for your child to achieve success in remedying some of the deficits that he/she is struggling with.
Coming to Terms with the Diagnosis
Working through the news of autism in your family is not an easy task. Even if you were suspecting the news, emotions will ebb and flow over time. There is no set period of time that will complete a parent’s coming to terms with the diagnosis of autism.
Coming to terms with a diagnosis is something that will be more of a process over time. There will be seasons of calm and seasons of emotional despair. It is important during these times to understand that there is nothing to despair. There are a vast number of resources out there for children with autism. There are organizations, support groups, charity events, speech therapists, occupational therapists, developmental psychologists, and of course there is ABA therapy.
With the right resources in place, at each stage of development, you will be able to celebrate accomplishments, and you will also discover other needs that your child might have. When you consider that typically developing children also have successes and times of need, it reminds you that all of these changes are normal. The only difference is that autism presents other challenges that you may not face with typically developing children.
Allow your network of professionals, support groups, friends, and family to come alongside you and remind you that you are doing a great job. Give yourself credit for all of the hard work that you do as you arrange services, get your child to appointments, and work through issues at home.
Taking one day at a time will help you to address one thing at a time. When you really think about it, that is all any of us can do. If we try to do more than that, the stress can overwhelm us. Just be present for your child and let the professionals assist you along the way.
What do you say to someone whose child has been diagnosed with autism?
If you are reading this in hopes of helping someone who has just discovered that their child has autism just remember this- keep being loving and supportive. A parent who has just received news that their child has autism is working through a lot of different emotions, and for others who do not have these circumstances present in their lives, it can be difficult to understand.
What should you say?
- The best response is just to let them know that you are there to listen. There are going to be more “you should” or “you could” statements than anyone could ever keep up with. All of the suggestions should be coming from professionals. All of the love and support should be coming from friends, family, and support groups.
What should you NOT say?
- Guilting, shaming, or speaking poorly about the child or criticizing anyone in the family should be avoided at all costs. Don’t point out the behaviors or the obvious deficits that the child is displaying. This only serves to cause more frustration and sadness.
- Don’t overwhelm the parent of a newly diagnosed child with autism with suggestions, articles, diet recommendations, or any other unfounded approaches to autism. There is already a world of thought to think through after a diagnosis, and everyone has opinions and suggestions. It is best just to listen and ask how you can help.
Support starts with those who are the closest to the family of a child with autism. Beyond close family and friends, a network of support needs to be constructed to help the child and the family with their needs.
Circle Care Services in New Jersey has helped countless families through the transition after learning of their child’s autism diagnosis. We provide parent training, social skills training, and preschool readiness, and we provide behavior therapy in your home, at school, or right here in our center.
Even if you don’t yet have a diagnosis but you’re looking for ways to help your child, Circle Care Services can help! We’re experts in the autism field, and we’ve done the research for you to help find a diagnostician that works for you. Just fill out our diagnostician form, and someone from our team will be in touch soon!
If you are new to autism and you have questions, Circle Care Services is here to help you get the answers that you need during this difficult time. Give us a call. Let us help you through this new season in your life.