Parents often experience feelings of shock, sadness, and fear when their child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. They worry about their child’s future development with ASD and whether they will be able to learn to socialize and form healthy relationships with others. In other instances, parents may wonder if their child will ever be able to speak or live independently. Due to the impact that such a diagnosis can have on the lives of their children, it is easy for families to feel overwhelmed and isolated at such a time. Regardless of the specifics of a child’s ASD, there are vital next steps and resources available to help families get a grasp on their situation, understand ASD, and begin to address their child’s condition.
The first priority for parents of children newly diagnosed with ASD is to learn more about the condition. Parents can turn to reliable sources of information such as the Center for Disease Control’s resources on ASD, and hone in on ASD’s unique presentation in their child. This step often involves parents learning new ways to interact with their child that are more accommodating to their condition. For more information on communicating with one’s child and supporting siblings, the National Autistic Society provides valuable resources here.[i] ASD can vary greatly in its behavioral and social impact on children, so it may be valuable to read about or connect with families with similar experiences of ASD. This is also the time to contact family and friends with the news.
Create a Support System
Telling friends and family about an autism diagnosis can be daunting. Parents may fear that loved ones will misunderstand the condition or not know how to offer support. However, building a support “team” for families of children with ASD can be incredibly helpful. It can be a good idea to provide family and friends with a fact sheet about autism, as well as details of a child’s specific experiences and common behaviors with the condition. Parents must also be willing to ask for help. Let friends and loved ones know that you will need support and patience on this journey. Provide concrete ways for them to do so. For instance, scheduling regular calls or “check-ins” with friends and family can give parents a place to discuss their successes and challenges. It can also provide a place to vent should you need to de-stress after a difficult day.
Explore Treatment Options
Seeking treatment for a child with autism is another vital step. There are numerous treatment approaches for ASD which help children with autism learn behavioral, social, and life skills, and cope with the challenges presented by their condition. Common treatments for autism include Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) which is used here at Spectrum of Hope, speech, language, and occupational therapies, and the Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach commonly referred to as “Floortime.”[ii]
Just as there is no single presentation of ASD, there is no single treatment that is effective for everyone. ABA is the most common treatment philosophy, with numerous treatment methodologies and offshoots derived from its principles. ABA is frequently used in conjunction with other treatment modalities which are tailored to the needs of the individual. The right treatment for your child must consider their unique difficulties and challenges, as well as the availability of treatment, the quality of available providers, and the advice of medical professionals. It is a good idea to communicate with your child’s team of medical providers for their input and direction towards valuable treatment resources.[iii]
Monitor Progress and Development
Once family and friends are notified and treatment is established, parents must continually work to monitor their child’s development and explore new approaches to working with their child. This is an ongoing and often difficult process that can prove stressful and tiring for parents who are unaccustomed to supporting a child with ASD. This is why having a “team” of family, friends, loved ones, medical providers, and therapists to consult with and be supported by is so important. Parents and families should also consider joining an online forum or support group for loved ones of individuals with ASD, some of which can be found here.[iv]
Parents need to know that they are not alone in their struggles with raising a child with ASD. They must also remember to take care of themselves. Finding the time for self care is difficult, yet critically important. Taking just a few minutes out of the day for relaxation can help parents stay productive and focused while preventing “burn out.” Self care can also take the form of turning to friends for support, setting aside time for a favorite hobby, or getting in a quick bout of exercise, meditation, or yoga.
It can be hard to know what to do following an autism diagnosis. Taking the next steps can seem like an impossible task, but seeking proper information, treatment, and support makes all the difference in raising a child with autism spectrum disorder. With treatment and support, parents can feel they have a solid base on which to confront new challenges and to celebrate success as their child develops and grows.