An autism diagnosis never feels easy. After learning your child has autism, you might feel overwhelmed by the news. You are unsure how to proceed and can even feel scared or frustrated.
Today, better autism awareness has led to a better understanding of how it can be recognized. Children can show signs at six months and receive an early diagnosis. According to a study made by CDC, approximately 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder—so the news might come as a shock, or you might've been expecting it.
However, finding out your child has autism is life-changing. As a parent, it’s hard to imagine a life where your child has a pervasive developmental disability. It’s normal to feel this way, but you are not alone. While there is no cure for autism, there is hope.
After a diagnosis, it's essential to take time for you and your little one to come to terms with the diagnosis—and breathe. This article explores the steps you can take after an autism diagnosis.
What Is Autism?
The first step after receiving an autism diagnosis is to document yourself on the disability. Autism is a spectrum, which means that one person is not a representative of every autistic person. There's a saying, "If you've met one autistic child, you have met one autistic child," which is not true. There's a range of severity; some autistic individuals need more help than others.
In simple terms, autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a developmental and neurological condition that affects social interaction, behavior, and communication. While each diagnosis is unique, many people with ASD experience challenges in problem-solving, social interaction, learning, and emotional expression.
Autism is five times more common in males than females. While the cause is not understood yet, it's believed that many factors (such as genetics and the environment) cause autism. During this time, it's important to remember that it's not your fault your child has autism.
What Are the Symptoms?
Look out for many behavioral, emotional, and social indicators if you believe your child has ASD. For example:
- Children with ASD have difficulties in social interaction, such as reading facial expressions, making eye contact, or having conversations.
- Children with autism love routines and might not be flexible to change.
- They might engage in repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping or rocking back and forth.
- Many kids have intense interests, such as dinosaurs or trains.
- Some children experience sensory processing disorders, which means they are overwhelmed by certain sounds, smells, or textures.
- Autistic children have trouble with pretend play. Instead of playing with a car, they might spin the wheel endlessly.
- Some children repeat words without understanding their meaning, known as echolalia.
Since autism is a spectrum, symptoms can vary from children who are verbal and described as "high-functioning" to children who have no language abilities ("low-functioning"). Symptoms can fit into one of the three levels of diagnosis that indicate the severity:
Level 1: The children are considered "high-functioning," and it's the level that requires the least "support."
Level 2: Children on this level might have verbal or cognitive impairments and require “substantial support.”
Level 3: It’s the most impairing level of symptom severity and requires “very substantial support.”
How Is Autism Diagnosed?
While the presence of one or more of these symptoms doesn't mean your child is autistic, it's crucial to get a diagnosis of autism spectrum from a professional.
ASD is a complex neurological disorder and requires specialized assessment to determine the best course of action. The evaluation is done in person and usually consists of answering questions, drawing, and completing puzzles. The specialist will compile a report on how your child’s brain works.
There are also online tests you can do.
Challenges of Autism
While no two autistic persons are the same, there are a few challenges children with ASD face, such as:
Social: Difficulty recognizing nonverbal cues, interacting and communicating with peers, expressing emotions, etc.
Emotional: Struggles with expressing and controlling emotions, apathetic behavior, anxiety, and depression.
Behavioral: Engages in repetitive motions, has poor fine motor skills, has aggressive meltdowns, or even harms themselves.
What to Do After a Diagnosis
Give Yourself Time
During this time, taking care of yourself is essential—a thing that might be easy to forget when you're distressed. While people react to a diagnosis differently, try to give yourself time to let the diagnosis sink in.
Make sure to eat well and exercise. Many relaxation techniques can be good for stress management. Don't let the autism diagnosis intimidate you—your child is still that sweet baby you fell in love with!
- With autism awareness on the rise, help and support is always available. Keep your hopes up. Even if it might seem that your dreams will not come true anymore, stay motivated and help your child become their best self.
- Even if things seem hard now, they will get better. There are worse things out there than an autism diagnosis. It's best to stay positive, maintain a sense of humor, and create new memories with your little one.
- Autism is not an illness with treatments or a “cure.” But there are many types of therapies that can aid your child in managing their symptoms and living successful lives.
- People with autism are good at some things while requiring help from others.
- There is no guilt to be placed. You couldn’t have done anything differently to prevent your child’s autism. There will be stares and judgment from people uneducated about autism, but it does get easier with time.
When you receive the diagnosis, you might feel alone. But you should know there are many places you can get support, such as:
- National charities
- Local support groups
- Local councils
- School, college, or workplace
- Other autistic parents on social media
Look into what help you can get to support your family. Early intervention is key to managing symptoms and developing social, communication, and behavioral skills early in life. Therapies and intervention programs will help your family adjust to life with an autistic child.
Here are some therapies to try:
- Speech and vocal therapy
- Occupational and physical therapy
- Social skill-building groups
- Developmental therapy
- Behavioral and emotional therapy
Reach Out to Other Parents
During the first weeks after the diagnosis, reaching out and finding support is important. You must advocate for your child and help them navigate the world. It's best to seek out other parents and listen to their stories.
Talk to other parents of autistic children and ask them how they coped with the situation. Join an advocacy group. Don't leave your family behind; make them understand what this means and how to proceed.
Listen to Your Child
Your child may be non-verbal or able to speak only in certain situations, but this doesn't mean that they are not trying to communicate with you. They have their unique way of talking and might engage in gesturing, drawing, or writing to physically direct you toward the thing they need. Other ways to communicate include mobile apps, picture communication exchange systems, or other devices.
Create a Structured Environment
Many autistic children seek structured environments and routines because they like an established routine. For example, children with autism might have an emotional attachment to a particular toy or want to wear the same clothes daily.
Autistic people prefer to have their day as predictable as possible. Having a schedule throughout the day will help your child manage expectations and avoid meltdowns if something unexpected happens. However, it's essential to differentiate between rituals and routines because enabling obsessive patterns might lead to meltdowns. In addition, leave some room for new activities or minor changes.
Since most autistic children learn visually, you can:
- Have your little one follow a visual schedule with pictures of their actions.
- Keep a list of the house rules so the child knows how to behave.
- Children might need to learn when to stop if engaged in an activity. You can give your child a visual warning when the activity ends, such as raising a finger or using a timer.
You Can Do This!
The journey will be long and filled with challenges and, yes, frustrations too, but a diagnosis doesn't define your child. It's easy to become overwhelmed after a diagnosis, but if you educate yourself and learn how to best help your child, you will succeed. Listen to your child and create a structured environment where your loved one can thrive.
You can make your journey smoother with the steps described in this article. There's a lot of trial and error involved in creating coping mechanisms and routines. Even after developing a carefully researched plan, things might go differently than you want. It's essential to be patient and understand that this is part of the process. As difficult as the journey is, be adaptable to your child's needs, especially when they grow older.