14 THINGS A PARENT SHOULD KNOW IF THEIR CHILD HAS AUTISM OR ASPERGER'S SYNDROME
by Autism Diva
I am a parent. I have Asperger's syndrome. I have two grown children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. I am very aware of how parents can react when an autism spectrum diagnosis is given to their child. It's not hard to find descriptions of their reactions on autism support sites on the Internet or in the popular media. I know how my friends and acquaintances have reacted to their own child's diagnosis. It's unfortunate that many parents are frightened by an autism spectrum diagnosis. It's tragic that along with this news parents frequently are given endless amounts of bad advice which leads many to waste their time and energy and money. Some of the ways parents react emotionally, and some of what they do to their child as a consequence is, at the very least, less than optimal for their child's development.
Autism is not new
Any problem parents of autistic children have now, others have dealt with in the past. This means you can use what others have learned about autism to help you. You don't have to reinvent the wheel.
Autistic people contribute to their communities in many ways
This is true, no matter what constellation of obvious abilities and disabilities they demonstrate. Autistic people are valuable as they are. They don't have value only if they can be transformed into less obviously autistic people.
SIGNIFICANT ABILITIES ARE LIKELY ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM
The very wiring of an autistic brain means that the autistic person is likely to have significant and unusual abilities. Those abilities won't always be make us employable, but autistics usually have excellent memories for facts accompanied by a drive to collect them. These abilities shouldn't be seen as disabilities or freakish "splinter skills" just because they are less common among non-autistic people.
YOUR CHILD'S ABILITIES CAN CHANGE OVER TIME
The term autism spectrum does NOT describe a line upon which a series of "functioning levels" are laid out stepwise, with "low functioning" on one end and "high functioning" on the other. Just because a person seems to belong to one category at one point in their life doesn't mean that he or she will seem the same at another point in his or her life. The situation the person is in often dictates how "functional" the person is. Children, especially very young ones, are fairly frequently moved from one autism spectrum diagnostic category to another.
Listen to and respect autistic adults
They may be your best resource for information about autism, even if their apparent "functioning level" doesn't seem to match your child's. Keep in mind, they are adults, whereas your child is a child.
Professionals are a great resource, they can also be a big disappointment
Some professionals only know the doom and gloom version of autism. This can set you up to see only where your child "fails." This is dangerous because it may cause you to overlook the places where your child is succeeding. On the other hand some professionals will try to sell you on expensive and exhausting cures for your child. They give the wrong kind of hope. They may convince you to attribute your child's development to a drug or therapy that is not responsible for the development at all.
Autistic children love their parents
You may have to learn to see how your child expresses affection and not take it personally if your child doesn't show affection in the way that typical children do. Deaf children may never speak the words, "I love you," and Deaf parents may never hear those words, but it doesn't mean that Deaf children don't love their parents.
Don't buy into the common "siege," "attack," or "war on autism" metaphors
Similarly don't listen to the rhetoric that says, "your kid is an empty shell," and "kidnapped, soulless husk". Ignore the threats that if you don't do this or that your child will "end up in an institution." Treat your child with gentleness and respect, but also remember that he or she needs to be challenged and exposed to new experiences.
You are the most important teacher for your child
Don't let anyone make you feel like you aren't the most important teacher in your child's life. Don't let them make you feel like your child is so unusual that only someone with an advanced degree can help him learn, thus making you, the parent, superfluous.
Don't get too hung up on 'critical periods for learning'
The idea of "critical periods" or "brief windows of time" during which you can teach your child something, has been exaggerated and oversold. No one is advocating that children be neglected, but pushing hard to teach or otherwise transform a child in a certain time period could be as damaging as outright neglect. Autistic development is not the same as typical development. Autistics learn things in their own way, sometimes on a very different schedule than non-autistics do.
DEVELOPMENT IS A BUMPY ROAD ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM
All children have what might look like lags in development, likewise all children have what look like sudden leaps forward in development. This bumpy trajectory may be more pronounced in autistic children. This fact makes parents of autistic children particularly vulnerable to attributing a regression or the acquiring of a new skill to something that changes in the child's life. In other words, just because someone says, "I gave my child this pill and he started speaking the next day...." or "I changed my child's diet and suddenly he was making better eye contact...." it doesn't mean that it was the pill or the diet that initiated the change, it can easily be a coincidence.
find a doctors & health professionals you are comfortable with
If you find an M.D. who doesn't help with your child's health problems because he or she sees every physical symptom as "autism," or conversely, if a doctor sees only a genetic or congenital disorder and health issues that your child may have, and can't see the traits of autism or learning disabilities your child also has and how they impact your child's health, you may need to educate that doctor about how your child is different, or you may need to find another doctor, one with more experience treating children like yours.
Reproduced with permission from Autism Diva. Visit her site at autismdiva.blogspot.com
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