Your child has just been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and it may feel as though the ground has dropped out from under you. The challenges seem overwhelming at first, but you don’t have to face them alone. With so much going on, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are a few ideas.
Find Professional Support
You are beginning your journey as your child’s advocate and will need to identify the resources you need as soon as possible. Your child will have symptoms, abilities, needs, and challenges that are unique to him or her. With that in mind, a little research will help you evaluate who can best help your child. Be sure to ask questions about each therapist’s approach and methodology, including whether the treatment is grounded in evidence-based practice and how parents and caregivers are included in the treatment.
Make Time for Yourselves
Your child’s needs are paramount, but if you are going to be able to meet them, you must also take care of yourself. As parents, you are under a tremendous strain. It’s critical that you take a deep breath, step back a bit, and process your own emotions and needs. It will be hard at first—your impulse will be to throw yourself into protecting and helping your newly diagnosed child—but it is necessary for your own long-term health and that of the rest of the family.
Be Open with Your Other Children
The diagnosis affects the whole family. Your other children will have questions and reactions, and their feelings about having a sibling with autism need to be validated. Don’t withhold information—it will neither protect them nor make them feel better. Encourage them to ask questions, and process what the diagnosis means for them.
Build a Support System
Don’t go it alone. It’s impossible to overstate how important it is to have family, close friends, parents of children with ASD, and therapists who support you as you start on this new path. Other parents will be particularly supportive—who else knows truly understands what you’re going through? They can be an invaluable source of information on family dynamics as well as on therapists and other resources.
Approach the Internet with Caution
While the Internet is a great source of information, it also contains a great deal of misinformation; you must be discerning. When reviewing websites, check to see if the author has a background in ASD and is professionally qualified to provide reliable information. Also, note whether the site’s information has been subjected to rigorous testing and research. Put another way, does the site share information on evidence-based practices?
One last, but important, note. Your child is the same child he or she was before the diagnosis and will continue to develop in his or her own way, and build unique strengths, skills, and interests for you to embrace and celebrate.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. Learn more online at the Autism Society.
At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, we understand that caring for infants, children, and teenagers is a special privilege. That’s why we partner with our young patients and their families to offer expert medical and surgical care. Our specialists treat children with conditions ranging from minor illnesses to complex, more serious issues at locations throughout the New York metropolitan area.