Unpacking the Autism Diagnosis
Receiving an autism diagnosis for your child is no doubt an emotionally charged and life-changing event. You may feel surprised, overwhelmed, or you may, in fact, be relieved by your child’s diagnosis. Through it all, it’s important to know that life holds many possibilities for your child and your family. Most significantly, there are things you can do to enhance the quality of your child’s life.
Some parents have a more difficult time than others accepting their child’s diagnosis. In some cases, this may be due to a lack of understanding of what autism is, how it is caused, and what it means for their child’s future. On one hand, an autism label may be something that some families prefer to avoid entirely. On the other, an autism label can help validate and put a name to the developmental delays that some families have long suspected.
It is often helpful to shift the focus from the label of autism to treating the symptoms that initially raised the concern. Although it isn’t possible to accurately predict how much progress your child will make, research shows that intervention and treatment can improve your child’s development and quality of life.
Given the main characteristics of autism, it is of primary importance that you and your child’s intervention team work to prioritize your child’s individual needs and address them through a balanced treatment program. You may start by focusing on improving your child’s communication and social interaction and reducing the presence of any problem behaviors. Next, you may identify other symptoms and developmental milestones (e.g., dressing, toileting) that can be targeted directly with intervention.
Another reason that some parents struggle to accept their child’s diagnosis is that autism places their expectations for their child in question. Interestingly, however, when asked what it is that they want most for their child, parents of children with and without autism respond similarly: they want their child to be healthy, have friends, secure any needed supports, and most importantly, be happy. Although raising a child with autism will be challenging at times, such aspirations for your child are achievable, particularly with strong family support. With autism you are not running a sprint, but rather a marathon with many bumps and hurdles along the way. The best thing that you can do following a diagnosis is to get started.
Your Life as Your Child’s Advocate Begins
While a diagnosis of autism presents a range of emotions and complexities, it also brings clarity and purpose in terms of understanding what is going on with your child, resulting in three positive developments:
First, the diagnosis can alleviate guesswork and uncertainty. Receiving the diagnosis can provide a name for the cluster of symptoms you may have seen, as well as validate your concerns. Having the diagnosis may better equip you to discuss your child with other family members and trusted friends, as well as with your child’s teachers and pediatrician.
Second, the diagnosis starts the process of accessing direct and related services. The services your child needs are rarely provided without a diagnosis. Children with autism require high-quality, intensive, and evidence-based intervention in order to make positive progress.
Finally, the diagnosis clarifies your role as the principal advocate for your child. The responsibility for taking the first action step will in all likelihood rest with you. So, it is critical that you become knowledgeable about autism and understand your child’s and family’s needs, as well as the services available.
One of the greatest challenges following your child’s diagnosis is sifting through the vast array of information available about autism and treatment options. As you begin this process, you are sure to find conflicting opinions (and sometimes high emotions) about the best methods or treatment to use. Some sources are excellent; others less so. To help you navigate these new waters, always look for evidence of efficacy in the form of documented research studies published in reputable scientific journals. If you are researching a potential treatment and you cannot find mention of that kind of evidence, you should be suspicious. This website will arm you with the resources and tools you need to be an informed advocate for your child.
Downloadable Tool: How to Be an Informed Consumer of Information