If your child has recently been diagnosed with autism, you may feel scared, worried, and unsure of where to turn for help. Luckily, you aren’t alone; there are many parents who are where you’re at now, or have been there. You may find yourself going through any or all of the following stages.
Despite evidence of autism symptoms, we want to believe that our children are perfectly healthy and normal. It’s perfectly normal for parents to go through a phase in which they turn a blind eye to their child’s symptoms. Because many of the symptoms of autism are centered around delayed developmental skills, they are easy to explain away: “your husband didn’t start speaking until he was 3 either, so he must be taking after his daddy”, or “a lot of kids have speech impediments”.
Unfortunately, this period often goes on for years; years in which the autistic child misses out on the treatment that he or she needs.
Feelings of guilt are very normal for parents of newly diagnosed autistic children. Many mothers worry that something they did while they were pregnant is the cause of their child’s condition; or they didn’t do something right while the child was younger. You may feel guilty for the craziest things, such as not breast feeding your child, or not putting your child on an appropriate sleeping schedule as an infant. These feelings are normal with any disability diagnosis.
In the case of autism, nobody knows what causes it. There has been no evidence that anything parents did or did not do resulted in autism, so you can take comfort in that.
It’s human nature to need to know why something happens; therefore, when your child is diagnosed with autism, you and your spouse may blame each other for having the “autism gene” in your need to understand why this happened. Again, in this situation, it’s important to remember that we don’t yet understand what causes autism. We don’t know if it’s genetic or not.
Playing the blame game doesn’t help the situation. Do your best to avoid making your spouse or other family members feel guilty for something that really isn’t anyone’s fault.
None of us want our children to have illnesses, disabilities or conditions such as autism. All we want for our children is for them to be happy, healthy and successful. Our instinct is to protect them from harm, so we get angry at anything or anyone that hurts them.
With an autism diagnosis, there really isn’t any one person we can be angry at; we therefore often lash out at those closest to us, whether that’s our spouse, therapist or doctor.
Parents of children with disabilities often find themselves excluded from many community, school, church and even family gatherings. Autism is perhaps one of the hardest diagnoses to receive, as it is not widely understood. Friends, community members and even family members don’t understand how to help you deal with the situation, so they unintentionally ostracize you.
Many parents ostracize themselves, because they are uncomfortable with discussions about other children, and the inevitable comparisons between friends’ or family members’ children. Another popular concern is how the autistic child will behave in public. As a result of these concerns, a lot of parents isolate themselves by declining invitations and just staying home more often than not.
This results in a very real feeling of being alone, without knowing how to deal with your grief, or where to turn for help.
Depression is an extremely threatening stage, and can range in duration from a very short period to an extremely long one. Severe depression may result in a prescription for antidepressants; at the very least, parents suffering from depression should seek some form of counseling. If it gets bad enough to where you stop socializing altogether and you become inactive, it can damage your marriage, family life and your child.
When your child is diagnosed with autism, it is a life changing event. As with any life changing event, you may need to seek the help of a professional in learning to deal with it. The biggest thing to remember is that you are not alone; many autism support groups exist to help families connect and help each other deal with the upcoming changes.
The easiest way to cope with the situation is to learn everything you can about autism: what it is, what it means, what resources are available and what to expect. Knowledge is power, and it can help you cope with your child’s symptoms.