As a parent with a child newly diagnosed with autism, it can be easy to ask yourself, “What do I do for my child diagnosed with autism?” This is a reaction that is to be expected and can be followed with overwhelming feelings and a lot of questions.
The good news is that parents don’t have to let an autism diagnosis intimidate or overwhelm them because they are not alone on this journey. Families can find a lot of support, resources, and services through talking to their child’s doctor and team of therapists, teachers at the child’s school, as well as other parents in the autism community.
Having and maintaining communication between the child’s team, as well as support groups will prove to be helpful. Your child’s team could consist of the child’s doctor or developmental pediatrician, occupational therapist, speech language pathologist, as well as other mental and physical health professionals, and special education or other services through your child’s school.
This team is helpful and does best when working together with the parents and child when setting goals and putting services into place.
Steps after receiving your child’s diagnosis of autism
Families play a large role for autistic children. They have been the ones that have witnessed the differing and sometimes difficult to understand behaviors, noticed differences in the child’s development, they know the child’s strengths, and have been there when they learn new skills and language or communication development.
The child’s parents will meet with the team and they will discuss the child’s development, strengths, and goals to work towards. The parents will also receive information on community support and services that are available for the newly diagnosed autistic child.
The meetings are as frequent as is decided by the parents and team. This is a great time for any questions or concerns to be brought out and discussed.
Depending on when your child was diagnosed, there are early intervention services available to support the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. These help jump start your child’s therapies and other services that they may qualify for.
When plans and goals are figured, they are then put together to form a very individualized plan for your child. Each part and therapy is discussed at the initial meeting and discussed at each decided upon meeting afterward.
There may be a need for an individual evaluation following the full assessment that your child already had to receive a diagnosis of autism. These individual evaluations would depend on the practitioner, for instance there may be an assessment for speech therapy, behavioral therapy, or occupational therapy to get a baseline for the therapist to develop a specialized path for your child’s development and growth in that area, based on the goals discussed.
What can I do to help my child?
There is a lot that parents can do when it comes to helping their autistic child through their therapies and services. Parents learn a lot either through the observation of therapy, or through more hands-on activities like pretend play, using sign language to build communication skills, as well as being there during real life social situations being their child’s support.
Attending autism parents support groups, reading quality books about autism spectrum disorder written by parents, autistic individuals, and professionals, and using the skills you have gained through observation and parent education that can be available through services like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or other therapies can help build your confidence, while helping your child. The members on your child’s team should be able to answer questions and offer specific suggestions that would benefit your child and family.
Through my experience, therapists strongly suggest that parents continue what the child is learning during a session at home and will generally give the parent and/or family the tools and support to help the process. That is one of the reasons that parents, caregivers, individuals, and the team come together to create the goals that will shape the therapies and services for the growth and success of the individual.
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Where do parents find support?
There are many different ways that parents can find support so that they have the skills, or can start building the skills to best help their child’s development. It can be very individualized, depending on the specifics of your child’s diagnosis, or it can be broad and cover a spectrum, depending on what the parent is looking for.
There are many different kinds of support groups for parents, siblings, and families of individuals diagnosed with autism. The groups can meet in person, there are early intervention playgroups, there are special siblings of children with autism and other differing needs, there are specialized parent support groups through Zoom, parents can find support groups through social media, there are also parent education possibilities through different therapies and parent groups.
Parent education can vary and is dependent on what is available in your area. There are parent groups that provide special needs education varying from early diagnosis to services available for autistic adults and everything in between. There are also conferences that are specific to parents of autistic children and online courses, like those available through Autism Parenting Magazine throughout the year.
There are numerous books written by parents, autistic individuals, different practitioners like occupational therapists, etc. These are great resources and I can personally say that I have learned a great deal through reading from a variety of authors. Books are also a great resource because you can look specifically for sensory processing information, what stimming is and what hand flapping can mean, all the way to the best sensory toys for vacations, and ways to help support your child’s behavior and what that behavior is trying to tell you.
There are a lot of people who have video blogs, or vlogs, about their family and what autism means to them. There are autistic individuals that talk about different aspects of autism and ways people can help and better understand them as individuals.
We have discussed what to expect after your child has been diagnosed, ways to support your child, and what is available to support you, as a parent and/or caregiver on this autism journey. I have discussed this through personal examples and I have discussed points from my perspective.
It is important to note that the information and services available are specific to your location and talking to your child’s doctor and team will be the most beneficial. That is because they will know what is available in your area and for your specific journey.
As no two individuals with autism are the same, neither is their journey. The information I have shared can be a good conversation starter and gives families an idea of some services and support that may be available in their area.
The most important step to take is to start asking questions because, typically, if your doctor or team are unable to answer them they should be able to point you to someone who can. Also talking to a support group can bring an array of services and support that could best support your child and family.