Learning that a child or loved one has autism can present a magnitude of emotions: family members can become overwhelmed with denial, filled with shock, shaken with helplessness and struck with fear. Navigating the behavioral challenges of autism can be difficult, but the process is less scary when you’re well-prepared.
It’s important that families find ways to support each other in order to provide the best care for their loved one. Here are five important steps to follow and cope with an autism diagnosis.
1. Know that you’re not alone. “It’s estimated that one in every 88 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined,” according to Autismspeaks.org. That means an estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism. Find a way to connect with others who understand what you’re going through. The National Autism Association (NAA) offers support groups through their local chapters.
2. Get a personalized treatment plan ASAP. Children who have autism have many types of therapy available to them—the younger the child is when treatment begins, the better the outcome is. But what works for one kid might not work for another. Each plan of action should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Parents, teachers and therapists will work discuss the child’s individual needs. Typically, children will receive behavior therapy, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training and sometimes feeding therapy, says Autismspeaks.com.
3. Learn how to advocate for your loved one. To find the best practice and care for your child, take in as much information about autism, treatments and the rights and services available in your community as you can. If you feel that your child isn’t receiving proper care at school or is being mistreated at the doctor’s office, speak up. There are many online manuals that can show you your rights and the services available in your state.
4. Don’t forget about family traditions. Whether it’s taking the dog for an evening walk every night or going to grandma’s house for dinner on Sundays, rituals will be helpful in maintaining normalcy for the rest of the family. Find activities that the entire family can do together—like playing a board game or working on a puzzle. Refrain from making every outing and conversation about autism, and spend alone time with your typically-developing children so they don’t feel left out.
5. Take care of yourself. Yes, YOU! Practicing self-care is vital during this difficult time. After all, if you can’t take care of yourself, how will you take care of others? Don’t feel selfish if you take time to nap, exercise or read a good book. Your mental health is important too! If you find yourself suffering from symptoms of anxiety, depression or an inability to cope with your new life, it might be a good idea to seek professional help.
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