Dealing with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be one of the most difficult things to do. You may feel guilt, shame, grief and loss over what was supposed to be a bright future for your child. Some parents may blame themselves and wonder if they did something wrong. Other parents may be angry and question why such a thing had to happen in their family. Rest assured, all these emotions are normal and have a place in helping you cope with a ASD diagnosis.
How to Deal with an Autism Diagnosis
Acknowledge Your Feelings
The first step is to acknowledge your feelings about this monumental development in your family's life. Feelings of shock and dismay are perfectly normal; they should not become a source of guilt. Disappointment is natural when things do not turn out the way you planned.
Feelings of disbelief, anger, depression, and self pity are common in the first days, weeks or even months after the diagnosis is confirmed. Grief and worry often appear on the path to acceptance, but if low feelings interfere with your ability to function, you may have clinical depression. Make sure to tell you doctor about your emotional state to ensure that you get proper treatment.
Work Through Your Emotions
Emotions can be hard to control, but it's important to avoid having outbursts in front of your child. Some things that can help you manage your feeling are:
Join a Support Group - Join a support group for parents with children diagnosed with autism. It can be extremely helpful to hear other parents talk about the same feelings and recommend ways to deal with an ASD diagnosis.
Allow Yourself to Grieve - Allow yourself time to grieve the loss of expectations you had for your child. A diagnosis of autism does not mean your child will not have a full, healthy and successful life, but it does mean it will be more difficult to achieve these things.
Write in a Journal - Journal about events and the feelings you have about them. This can help you see how each day gets easier and will help you see how far you and your child have come over the weeks and months to come.
Take a Break - Take time for yourself periodically to recharge your mental and physical energy. Focusing on a child with autism can be exhausting and you need to take care of yourself as well as your child.
Learn About Autism - Visit websites to learn all you can about the disorder and keep yourself informed, which can be helpful when you are bombarded with questions and concerns. The Autism Society of America is a wonderful resource for parents of children with ASD.
The next step in helping your child is to secure basic support services. If your child is very young, the first organization to contact will be the Early Intervention program in your state. Every state participates in this program, which guarantees these services to children with disabilities up to the age of two, and some states extend services a year or two beyond that age. These same basic services are available for older children through your local school system. Under federal law, your child is eligible for these services through age 21.
Under federal Early Intervention guidelines, your child will be eligible to receive the following services:
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
- speech and augmentative communication
- behavior modification
- sensory integration
These basic therapies are available through any number of private practices and clinics as well. However, not all health insurance companies will cover autism treatment and therapy, so be sure to go over your policy carefully to avoid the possibility of unexpected, out of pocket expenses. Children with ASD may qualify for medical assistance to help offset the cost of therapy and treatment. Check with the assistance office in your town, county or state for more benefit information.
Treatment and Therapy
Once the basics are in place, it is time to begin the process of investigating the various options for treatment and therapy. The Association for Science in Autism Treatment outlines evidence-based treatments as well as approaches still under investigation.
Before committing yourself to any treatment plan, be sure to investigate it thoroughly. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who would take advantage of your drive to care for your child by offering fly-by-night treatments that provide no real result other than a reduced bank balance. Proven treatments, such as applied behavioral analysis, are staples of a treatment plan.
Take It Day by Day
While those first steps into the world of autism are bound to be difficult and confusing, the path will begin to become easier as you gain experience, knowledge, and confidence. Soon, the initial panic will give way to the realization that your child is not defined by autism. The diagnosis is but one aspect of who he is, and underneath it is that bright and beautiful child of your dreams.