When Marjorie’s and David’s youngest son, Jeremy, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of four, the couple was initially “devastated.
“We just thought it was this life sentence, like it couldn’t have been worse news,” admits Marjorie. “We didn’t know anything about it other than what we’d seen on TV or heard from random people. We thought it was this terrible disability and he would have little to no chance of a normal life.
“And the fact he was only four years old… I was looking at this little boy and thinking, ‘What kind of life have I given you? What do I do for you?’”
While not everyone reacts to their child’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in the same way, it’s understandable why Marjorie had the kind of response she did – such a diagnosis can be, and is, very stressful.
But it’s important for all parents and caregivers to know that an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis is not the end of the world – not for your child and not for you. There’s actually a lot you can do to help your child, and they’ll have every opportunity to grow and thrive and master all the skills they need to have to live a full, happy, comfortable life, at home, at school and in the community.
Having a solid strategy to get the best possible help for your child and your family is the first step. This will be beneficial so that you can see it laid out, and you’ll be comforted in knowing that your child’s future is bright with the right kind of plan. The earlier the intervention, the better, but it’s never too late.
So what are the things you need to add to your plan?
There’s so much to learn out there about autism spectrum disorder, and new things are being discovered every day. The more you know about the disorder, the more you’ll be able to understand about your child’s development, the strategies laid out for them, and even your own role to play. Read all the books you can on the subject, watch videos online, join forums filled with other parents who are likely going through everything you’re going through right now (and as an added plus, you’ll get to meet parents and caregivers who have already been where you are, so they’ll be an invaluable source of support!). Find support groups in your area, and ask your child’s school if there are any other support systems available for autistic kids and their parents nearby. And hey, if there aren’t any – maybe you can start one!
2. Enrol in services.
Find out whatever government services (many are free) are available to your child and to you, and register right away. Even if you’re planning on to pay for ABA therapy, there’s no such thing as too much support.
3. Select a behavioral therapist.
This is so important. Finding and choosing an experienced ABA provider is so beneficial. ABA therapists are trained to understand how human behavior is learned, and how that behavior can be changed over time. An ABA therapist can evaluate your child’s behavior right now, and is capable of developing and designing a treatment plan to help your child improve their behavioral and communication skills. This kind of therapy is invaluable because the things your child will learn at ABA will set the tone for the rest of their lives – they’ll use these skills at home, at school, and eventually at work.
4. Sign up for speech therapy.
Not all autistic children are non-verbal. Some autistic kids are actually quite talkative! A speech language pathologist can help kids on the spectrum in all areas of communication, not just speech. They can help improve your child’s social interaction skills, even in non-verbal communication. They can also assist in teaching your child how to play and how to learn from their social experiences.
5. Get support for yourself.
Challenges as a parent are ever-present; even more so when you’re the parent of an autistic child. It’s rewarding, oh yes… but it can also be very draining.
You may find yourself spending all your time and energy on your child – your financial, physical and emotional resources may be entirely invested in them, so much so that before you know it, there’s nothing left for you.
Don’t forget or neglect your own needs. Remember your own person, your own desires, your own plans for yourself. They can be integrated into this new life you’ve found. With religious self-care and the right kind of support, you won’t just survive this – just as your child will, you’ll thrive too.