So you just got the word: your child has been diagnosed with autism. Whether this comes as a total shock to you or is what you expected, and whether you are devastated or relieved, I bet there’s one thing you’re probably feeling as you look into the future: overwhelmed. “What is this ‘autism,’ exactly? What does this mean for my child? What is this whole ‘ABA’ thingy people keep talking about? Where do I go for support? How will I manage to pay for my child’s interventions? Will insurance cover it? What kind of schooling should I put my child in? What will the future look like? Did I inadvertently do anything to cause my child’s autism? Is it my fault?” (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)
With all these questions spiraling around in your mind, you might not know what to do next. So here are some things you might want to consider putting on your checklist.
12. Take a Minute and Breathe
Just hold on one second. Take a moment to relax. Breathe deeply and slowly. Pour yourself a glass of wine and sit down for a bit. Go out and take a brisk walk. Draw a bath. Take care of yourself. As you use this moment to relax, remember: it’s going to be okay. You and your child are strong, and you are going to get through this together. Your child is the same wonderful person you’ve always known and loved; nothing about them has changed since the doctor uttered the word “autism.” Only one thing has changed: you now know what your child has and have the opportunity to help them reach their full potential and live the happiest life possible.
11. Let Yourself Feel Everything
If this optimistic view is hard for you to fathom and fully embrace, that’s okay. You don’t need to have it all figured out right here and now. You don’t have to feel a certain way. Your feelings are your feelings, and they are not wrong. What matters is what you do with them.
So if you feel sad, angry, or any other host of negative feelings toward the diagnostic news, step back from your child and process it. Cry if you need to. Rant to a loved one if that will help. Buy a journal and write out all your feelings without censoring yourself. Bottling up your feelings out of guilt or shame will do you no good, so let it out.
10. Avoid a “Cure” Mentality in Favor of an Acceptance Mentality
No matter what anyone might tell you, there is no cure for autism. Striving to eliminate it in your child will not only not work, but it will also take a toll on you and your child. When your mentality is focused on trying to “fix” your “broken” child, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, unmet expectations, and resentment. And your child will likely notice the negative attitude toward them, and it will hurt them; they will never feel like they are good enough.
An acceptance mentality is much healthier and will make both of you happier in the long run. Some incorrectly think this means complacency—doing absolutely nothing and taking no action to help a child grow and develop. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, acceptance simply means that you love your child for who they are now—not for who you hope they will someday become. It means acknowledging that autism is an inextricable part of who they are, and that can be pretty great (autism, after all, is not just a set of deficits; it also comes with strengths!). It means fostering a positive self-image in your child while trying to help them reach their full potential as an autistic person.