Not many people know much about autism unless they know someone who is affected by it, but it is a disorder that impacts millions of people on a personal level. Parenting a child with autism brings special challenges.
Autism is a spectrum of closely related, complex disorders of brain development with a shared core of symptoms. Autism spectrum disorders appear in infancy and early childhood, causing delays in many basic areas of development such as learning to talk, play, and interact with others.
It’s important to know that one child who lives with autism will not look or act the same as another child with autism. Some autistic children only have mild impairments while others have more obstacles to overcome.
It can be shocking to find out that your child has autism. Mary Beth Steinfeld, MD, told the mother of one of her patients not to use the word autism if it scared her. Instead, she advised the mother to think about her son and the strengths he has and where he needs help. Focus on him, not on the word autism.
Here are a few tips for parents who have a child who’s been recently diagnosed with autism:
- Learn about autism. It’s okay if you know little about autism, but one of the first things you’ll want to do is learn about it. WebMD suggests this crucial step because it’s important to dispel any misconceptions you have and to understand the realities you’ll be dealing with. Talk to other parents of children with autism. Order some books and browse the internet. An excellent place to start is the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Educating Children with Autism.
- Create a supportive environment.Dr. Martha Herbert tells Today’s Parent that it’s important to know what you can control and what you can’t. The set of genes your child was born with is what they will have for life, but that doesn’t mean their future is foretold. “The power of individual genes is shaped by our environment,” Herbert says. “Your aim should be to create as supportive and nourishing an environment as possible, for yourself as well as your loved one with autism.”
- Know what’s available.Child development experts agree that a child with autism should receive treatment as soon after diagnosis as possible. There is no cure for autism, but early intervention using skills training and behavior modification techniques can yield good results. Talk with your doctor, and find a specialist that you both think will be the best for your child.
- Breakthrough. Once you get to know your child’s world, find ways to gently broaden it. Give them activities they might not choose on their own. Help them channel their special interests into skills, and provide opportunities for your child to expand their comfort zone and means of communicating. Give them room to find their own inner rhythms and feelings.
Parenting an autistic child is not an easy job, but support is available so you don’t have to feel you are alone. Having someone to talk to, whether in a support group or in counseling, can help relieve some of the burden.
photo credit: Autism Commission Meets, Begins Work to Improve Services via photopin (license)