You got an autism diagnosis, so whats next?
It can be shocking for a parent to hear that their child has autism. You may be thinking:
- “what does this mean for my child’s future?”
- “what can I do to give my child the best chance at life?”
- “I just want my child to be normal. I don’t want them to have a hard life.”
- “no, that can’t be true. The doctor must have gotten it wrong.”
The most important thing to understand right away is that your child can have a perfectly happy life, filled with all the things that make them joyful and fulfilled. Its a different path than you initially planned, but the destination is the same!
Understanding the diagnosis
Autism is a developmental disability with three primary features: delays in language development or the use of language, difficulty with social interactions, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors (RRBs).
Oftentimes, kids with autism will have difficulty with language. They may be late to begin talking. Kids are typically talking in 2 word phrases by the age of two. If a child is three and not talking, this raises concern for possible autism.
Kids with autism also show difficulty in social situations. at an early age, this may look like lack of imitation. Very young children will smile when smiled at, or attempt to copy facial expressions. Toddlers will imitate the words they hear, or they may role-play activities their parents do. school-age children usually play and interact with peers. You can read more about typical social development by looking through SOARs other blog posts.
Lastly, kids with autism commonly have restrictive or repetitive behaviors. This may look like repetitive vocalizations or physical movements. It may also be highly restrictive preferences, like food preferences, routine preferences, and/or restrictive language.
One excellent resource can be found here, from Autism Speaks. It’s the 100 day toolkit and it will give you an excellent overview of what to expect and what resources you can consider pursuing.
Therapies and treatments
Some of the most common therapies for autism include the following:
- ABA therapy – ABA uses the principles of positive reinforcement to teach skills like language development and behavior reduction
- Speech Therapy – Speech is the assessment and treatment of communication problems and speech disorders
- Occupational Therapy – Occupational therapy, for autism, often addresses the needs of kids who need sensory regulation
We highly recommend pursuing these if your doctor recommends them. The earlier you get in, the better. At SOAR, we also offer parent support to families on our waitlist, so reach out to us by following this link
If your child is younger than 3, you should enroll them in your local birth-3 program. These programs will look different in every state, but the concept is the same. Birth to three programs provide support to children with diagnoses like autism. And the earlier you get support, the better the outcomes will be for your child. In Washington, reach out to your regional health district for more information. Your doctor should also be able to give you contact information for birth to three programs.
Commonly, birth to three providers will offer occupational therapy, social classrooms, in-home support, and speech therapy.
One of the things to consider is school supports. You will probably want to get your child an Individualized Educational Plan or “IEP.” An IEP is a written plan that outlines how the school will teach your child and what goals he/she should achieve over the next year. It will also ensure that the school provides the necessary support to your child. You can get an IEP as early as 3-years-old.
Reach out to your school or school district to get the process started. The sooner the better. You can read more about working with schools and IEPs by browsing through our other blog entries.
Be wary of treatments that promise a cure.
Because there is no cure for autism, there are many people out there who would like to sell you snake oil. Don’t fall for it. These can include things like hyperbaric chambers, anti-vaccination, etc. But any good treatment or therapy will be based in real science and research.
As a parent, make sure you ask lots of questions. Any good treatment should be able to stand up to criticism.