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Your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Maybe, deep down, you suspected this. It’s probably been a long, scary road to getting the right diagnosis. Still, nothing can prepare you for the devastation you feel when a specialist officially confirms your worst fears.
Having a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder thrusts you into new, unwelcome waters, and at first you’re not sure if you will sink or swim. But, swim you must, for your child’s sake, and your own. Experts and parents who’ve been where you are recommend the strategies below to help you cope and deal with your child’s diagnosis.
Why my child? Is it my fault? Maybe you’re in denial. Shocked. Angry. Deeply saddened. Or all of the above. Most parents experience deep, overwhelming emotions at first, and what you’re feeling is normal. Don’t be hard on yourself or try to hide your feelings.
Give yourself time and permission to experience a range of feelings. Coping with your child’s diagnosis is a process, and it’s common for parents to go through some or all of the stages of grieving, including denial, anger and depression. You will experience many feelings before you come to a place of acceptance.
Here are a few strategies that may help:
Being diagnosed with ASD doesn’t change who your child is, or how you feel about them. Remember to appreciate all the wonderful qualities your child has that make them special and loved. Focus on all he or she can do, and relish each small accomplishment. Find new ways to play, interact and connect.
Too often, parents spend so much energy worrying about the future that they miss out on the present. Enjoy your child in the here and now. Try not to compare his development with that of others on the spectrum or with typical kids.
This is not the time to pass judgment on yourself as a parent. Many moms and dads say they feel overwhelming guilt, and blame themselves for their child’s diagnosis. Don’t do it. Guilt and blame won’t help you or your child.
Accept how you feel. Whether you’re having a good day, bad day, feeling productive, or defeated. IT’S OKAY. Give yourself a break. You won’t always feel this vulnerable and overwhelmed. Things will get better, and you’ll learn to cope. Healing is a process. Respect what you’re going through and take each day at a time.
It’s hard enough just having a toddler, let alone one who’s on the autism spectrum. It can seem like you’re dealing with the terrible twos times two thousand. You might feel out of control, but you’re not. You can educate yourself, and with knowledge comes power. Read up on research, services and treatments to help quell the anxiety. Speak with other parents who have a child with ASD. They can be a huge resource. Armed with information, you’ll feel more in control and better able to decide what course of action is right for your child.
Be proactive in getting your child help. Though you may need time to adjust to your new reality, don’t let this stop you from getting your child treatment. Studies show that the sooner your child starts treatment, the better, for him, and for you. Early intervention is the key to helping a child with ASD. Contact your local early intervention office if your child is under the age of three, or your local school district if your child is three or older.
Even if your child’s official treatment hasn’t started yet, you have the power to help your child, right now. Seek ABA-based treatments that will encourage your involvement. There are many simple techniques you can learn to help your children. Once you learn how you can help your child get better, you’ll feel more empowered.
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