Dear New Autism Parent :
So you were concerned that something was “not quite right” with your child, but hesitated to go forward with testing because you didn’t want your child to be “labeled.” Here is my unsolicited advice: Don’t fear the label. In fact, don’t think of it as a “label,” because it really isn’t. It’s a diagnosis. More importantly, it is a tool that is used to get your child the assistance and accommodations he or she needs to be successful.
Now that your child has been diagnosed, roll up your sleeves, dig in your heels and start learning. Read Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew. Read The Out-of-Sync Child. Find a support group, STAT. The folks who have been in the trenches for a while will be your panel of experts, your shoulder to cry on, your saving grace.
If you have the chance, go see Temple Grandin speak. She is amazing and inspiring and a wealth of information about the autistic mind.
Take your child out in public. I don’t care if he stims, flaps or makes strange noises. Take him out into the world. The only way our kiddos learn how to act in public is to be in public. Afraid of stares or comments from random strangers? Bring one of your new BFFs from your support group to run interference.
“Every behavior has a reason.” Memorize that phrase. Keep it always in the back of your mind. When your child acts out, instead of punishing the behavior, search for the trigger. Praise desired behavior early and often.
Be your child’s biggest advocate at school, but be a team player. No matter how many horror stories you’ve heard about IEP meetings, go in with a positive attitude. Ask what you can do to help at home. Be a visible presence at the school. Treat the teachers and staff with respect. Communicate often, and keep an open mind. This is your child’s team for success…a good relationship with your teammates is paramount.
Don’t fear the “A” word. Talk about autism in front of your child. Be matter-of-fact and undramatic. Kids are smart, and at some point will pick up on the fact that they are “different” from their peers. Acknowledge the difference, reassure your child that different does not mean “lesser than,” and continue helping them learn to navigate this crazy world.
People who are on the spectrum are your greatest natural resource. If you have access to someone with ASD who is willing to share information with you, consider yourself blessed and start asking questions. It’s amazing how many “quirks” suddenly make sense when you hear the other person’s perspective. We as parents are better able to support our children when we understand their world.
Above all, remember your child is still the same amazing person. A diagnosis does not change who he is. It may not have been the journey you were expecting, but sometimes detours lead to an even better place than we’d imagined.