What is Autism?
If your child – your loving, interesting, perhaps quirky child – has just been diagnosed with autism, it may feel as though your world is spinning to a halt. You may not fully understand what this diagnosis means for your child or your family. There may be dozens of competing thoughts running through your head. Before you head down a dark path wondering what you have done wrong to cause this diagnosis, it’s important to take a step back and learn more about the various forms of this condition and how they can be effectively treated.
Get the Facts
According to the National Autism Association, disorders in the autism spectrum can have a variety of symptoms. This neurodevelopmental disorder is generally characterized by difficulty communicating, cognitive or social development impairment, and repetitive behaviors. It ranges from mild cases that are intensely difficult to diagnose to severe cases that could require ongoing attention or medication. However, the majority of autism cases are mild to moderate and cause children and their families only slight challenges. Children who experience autism may have skills that degrade over time; for instance, a child who was speaking suddenly stops communicating. Other symptoms can easily be mistaken for simple misbehavior, such as:
- Aggression; causing injury to self or others
- Unusual phobias or excessive anxiety
- Meltdowns, either in public or private settings
- Unusual moods, sleeping habits or eating habits
- Short attention spans
There are developmental screening tests that your doctor can recommend to help determine exactly where your child falls on the autism spectrum. If you receive this diagnosis and it doesn’t quite feel right, don’t hesitate to request a second opinion from another trusted professional.
Trust Your Instincts
One of the first things you’ll see is that this diagnosis shouldn’t frighten you. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there will need to be big changes in your life. Your child may have a few additional obstacles to overcome as they grow and evolve, but they are still generally healthy. They are still the sweet, beautiful creature you love with all your heart – they may just need a little extra love and attention. While the Internet can be a scary place if you’re looking for information, there are also plenty of blogs, tips, and inspirational stories. Listen to everything your doctor or therapist says and practice good health and safety. You may have to carry around a few toys or calming objects to help your child, or you may find yourself using a first aid kit (more detail here) in case they injure themselves. The most important thing is to trust your instincts when it comes to your child and caring for them. You will soon see that autism is not caused by something that you’ve done, so you can safely leave the guilt behind. No one is truly sure what causes autism and there is no cure. Learning to work with them as they learn to work with the world is an experience that comes from deep within.
Look for Support
With millions of children and adults in the U.S. diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, there are plenty of options for finding a support group online or in your local community. It’s a good idea to seek therapeutic intervention as early as possible to help your child with any developmental difficulties. Once the diagnosis comes, you can start working with your healthcare providers to create a plan of action. This might involve occupational therapy, speech therapy, special instruction, and other types of support. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others in your circumstances, as sometimes when your child starts to have a meltdown, it may not be always possible control the tantrums. While you call for help, try to calm them with a weighted blanket or give them their favourite toy. Reach out to other parents who have gone through your situations. Families raising autistic children in your area might have suggestions about local resources and treatments that were especially helpful and those which did not have the impact they had hoped for.
Understand Your Child’s Rights
Does your insurance cover all of the treatments and therapies that may be needed for your child to live a healthy and happy life? How does your school system support children with special needs? These questions may keep you up at night, but there are places you can go to ensure that your child has all the support from the government and school system to which they are entitled. You are likely to find yourself in a situation where you need to become a strong advocate for your child. Be prepared to gain a thorough understanding of your child’s rights, and those of yourself as a parent.
An autism diagnosis may seem overwhelming at first. However, with careful research and a strong support network, you will be able to successfully support your child and your family during this difficult time. Learn more and connect with others on Caring4OurKids.org, where you will find resources for families with children facing similar challenges.