Has Your Child Recently Been Identified as Autistic? If so you may find this helpful.
If your child has recently been identified as autistic, you may be feeling overwhelmed with many different emotions. You might be feeling isolated, and unsure about what to do next, or you may be feeling relieved to have confirmed what you already suspected, and be eager to learn how best to support your child. You may feel different emotions on different days, and every one of them is valid.
I cannot tell you what your journey with your child will be like, but what I can tell you is that the most important thing you can do, when you receive this news, is to take time to process, and acknowledge, your feelings. Your child has not changed with this diagnosis. However, how you view your child, and their future, might have.
Your next step is to become informed with the right knowledge. You have most likely just been introduced to autism through the ‘medical model’. This model can reduce our children to a list of deficits, often overlooking, or undervaluing, their strengths, unique skills and autistic way of being. I recommend that you start looking for positive sources of information. It doesn’t help to read information, or listen to people, who focus on negatives and make predictions about what your young child will not achieve, due to their diagnosis. And please, stay away from organisations that say they can ‘cure’ your child, or help them to ‘recover’ as this is offensive and untrue. Autism is not a disease to be cured, it is a neurologically different way of being.
If you do not embrace the positives, you may get so busy trying to ‘fix’ or ‘normalise’ your child, and so focused on what they can’t do, that you may miss the joyful moments that parenting your child can bring. I am not saying that you won’t have challenging times. But if you can accept and honour your child’s uniqueness, whilst supporting their growth, trust me you will be a more fulfilled parent, and you will have a happier, more confident child.
As part of your child’s assessment, you may have been provided with a list of what you ‘must do’ to start your child on the road to gaining ‘missing’ skills as quickly as possible. Terms like early intervention, ABA, speech language therapy, occupational therapy, Floortime, and many more may be mentioned; basically a whole new world for you to learn about, together with a strong message that you need to act now.
But please, do take that moment to breathe and time to do your own research. The ‘window’ that some professionals often talk about that ‘closes at around 5 years’ doesn’t close at all. We all continue to learn throughout our whole lives. A better way to explain this ‘window’ is to acknowledge that a child’s early years are extremely important in terms of emotional development and language acquisition. Like any child, autistic children need to feel safe, and loved, in order to thrive and learn. They need a nurturing environment in which they can explore and play, and they need to have adults available who understand their needs and communication style. They also need to develop across all areas (e.g. physical, emotional, social, language, and cognitive skills) and in these early formative years, this is the perfect role for you, the parent, with the support of caring professionals, when required. So do not undervalue the huge impact that spending quality time with you will have on your child, whatever their needs are.
Always trust your own judgment and intuition when it comes to therapy. If it feels wrong to you, or there is an expectation for you to do anything that goes against your instincts, or causes distress to you or your child, then be cautious. Not all recommended therapies are a good match for a particular child, or their family. As the parent, you must feel comfortable with your provider, and confident enough to state how you feel about any support, or advice, offered.
What your child will need in terms of support is dependent on many factors, such as whether you are a home with one or two working parents, who is going to be your child’s main caregiver, your child’s age, their developmental level, their ability to regulate, and their communication and sensory needs. Every child is different and has their own unique profile of strengths and challenges. Remember, just because your child is autistic, does not mean that they will need to have intensive, or regular, support services and interventions. More is not necessarily better, and the wrong services can negatively affect your child’s development.
It is also important to bear in mind that the professionals you may encounter are skilled in the services they provide, but that does not make them an ‘expert’ when it comes to your child. If you are a committed, observant parent, then you are likely to be the person who knows your child best and the onus may fall on you to determine which service(s) will be of most value to your child on their journey. This can be daunting, but also empowering. If you are seeing a therapist who diminishes or undervalues your input, then that person may not be the best match for your family. Therapy works best when the provider and the parent work together as a team, and share their knowledge, to plan a course of action that focuses on how to enrich a child’s life and reduce challenges. This empowers you, the parent, to be their best advocate, until the time comes when they can learn to advocate for themselves.
There are many resources available, and you are likely to have a recommended reading list already. But do make sure that you read books that are written by autistic people, and listen to them speak too. The autistic community has wonderful, resources that comes from autistic-led research and lived experiences. There are autistic-led Facebook pages where parents can ask autistic adults (many of whom are parenting their own autistic children) questions about challenges they face in understanding, and supporting, their child. There are also podcasts, virtual summits and TEDx talks.
If you would like more information relating to neurodiversity-affirming resources, and are looking for some help in planning what to do after your child has been identified as autistic, you are welcome to book a consultation with one of our senior therapists, who can help you get started on the journey you are about to embark on.