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As a parent, when you first hear the diagnosis of autism, you experience a plethora of emotions. These can include denial, anger, frustration, devastation, panic and guilt. For some however, it can be a relief to know that your child’s behaviors are the result of a disorder, and not bad parenting. So what’s the first thing you need to do once you have the diagnosis? Breathe.
An autism spectrum disorder can affect children in many different ways. Once upon a time, autism was diagnosed if the child could not communicate, or acted in strange ways. Unfortunately this stigma still exists, so it can be difficult for many people to grasp that your child has autism if in fact they love to talk, can make eye contact and only have slightly bizarre mannerisms or behaviors. Overcoming this stereotyping can be a frustrating experience, especially when grandparents are involved, as they are usually the first to dispute the diagnosis.
The Issues Ahead
When the health practitioner tells you your child has autism, ask as many questions as you can possibly think of. Ask them to explain what it is about your child that has drawn them to that conclusion. Knowing and understanding how autism affects your child individually is the first start to learning how to deal with the obstacles you may face. They should also refer you to the necessary specialists, such as psychologists and psychiatrists if these are required.
Children with autism can cause a dramatic upheaval in your household, particularly if you have other children. They can be very demanding of your time, and may need constant supervision, which is not only exhausting, but also affects the other children, and they often can feel left out. This is a very important factor to take into account, and you may need to make arrangements with certain services or respite care so that you can have some "alone" time with the other children.
Meal times can be difficult, as many autistic children have specific eating routines or restricted food choices. For example, if your child will only eat boiled eggs and gingernuts, you need to take this into account when organizing meals! Some of these children have small motor skills issues, so using cutlery may be an issue. You just have to accept that little Bobby is going to eat with his fingers. You choose your battles.
Family and friends will often have many opinions on what you should do and what you shouldn't do with your child. Ignore them. Most of the time, they just don’t understand, and no matter how much you try to explain it to them, they quite often still won’t get it. They may see your child as completely normal, but they don’t have to deal with your child asking the same question 11 times in 3 minutes, or being so obsessed with drains, you have to stop and look at every single drain, no matter where you are or what you’re meant to be doing.