ASD varies widely in type and severity. “There are people with autism who function very well, and there are people with autism who are unable to speak, and everything in between,” says Dr. Veenstra-VanderWeele.
“It’s natural for parents to feel adrift and afraid when learning their child has ASD. However, there is reason to be hopeful: Researchers are making rapid gains, and we are seeing better outcomes through high-quality, early intervention,” he says. “Also, research is moving quickly, and experts are understanding much more than they did 20 years ago.”
There are many strategies that can help parents cope with their child’s diagnosis, and manage their child’s — and their own — behavior.
Here, Dr. Veenstra-VanderWeele offers guidance and tips on coping with a diagnosis, and how to be your child’s best advocate.
- Have hope. Behavioral and educational interventions can make a big difference. Further, autism research is moving quickly, providing us new opportunities to help people with ASD.
- Remember that your child is an individual. Your child is first and foremost his or her own unique person, then a child with strengths and difficulties, and only then a child with ASD. Receiving a diagnosis does not change the child you know and love.
- Build a strong support system. Find people you can trust to support you as an individual, and then to support you as a parent of a child with autism. Acknowledge that this isn’t easy and give yourself credit for what you do.
- Find credible sources and resources in your community. You will hear many contradictory and unfounded pieces of information. Stand up for what you think are the needs of your child. Find professionals whom you trust and resources in which you have faith. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Other parents can be important sources of information, but every child with ASD is different.
- Enjoy each other. Do things that you and your child can enjoy together. While opportunities for learning are important, shared enjoyment is also important in a family.
- Set goals. Set small, reasonable goals for your child and figure out how to accomplish them. Have ideas for next steps that aren’t miles down the road.
- Make time for your partner. Set aside some time, even just a few minutes, to focus on each other and not the child. Listen to each other’s needs and perspectives as you consider what you will do for your child.
- Have reasonable expectations for your child’s behavior. Do not let your child do things that you would not let another child of the same age do, such as biting people or climbing on counters. Do not punish, but interrupt quickly, be firm, and redirect, offering a distraction when necessary.
- Build on your child and your family’s strengths. Help your child find things she or he loves and use that passion to build experience and/or skills. If your family is passionate about something like music, sports, or travel, find a niche for your child in that interest.