An autism diagnosis can be an overwhelming experience for many parents. It can be nerve-racking not knowing what lies ahead and what the autism diagnosis will lead to, even if you've already suspected your child of having autism and you've been coping with things for some time. The experience of getting an autism diagnosis puts a label on what has been going on for your child.
Having a diagnosis can be a good thing. It can be a positive experience in many ways; however, it does take some mental and emotional work to move forward positively.
We have some tips that can help you in your journey as you move forward to best help your child and yourself process and cope with your experiences; those experiences that are challenging and those that are rewarding, as well.
Tips for After Your Child's Autism Diagnosis
Don't let the autism diagnosis be another stressor in your life.
You undoubtedly have enough stress and responsibilities to worry about in your day-to-day life. It's not helpful to also view a diagnosis for your child as a stressful event.
Do look at the autism diagnosis as a positive experience.
Having an autism diagnosis can help your child receive services that can support their quality of life. Having a diagnosis can help them to receive supports that will teach them valuable life skills and that can support their future in positive ways.
Having confirmation that your child has autism can also help you as a parent as it can validate your experiences thus far throughout your parenting journey as well as things yet to come.
Don't let an autism diagnosis completely define your child.
It's OK to take pride in the fact that your child has autism, and it's ok for them to learn to accept themselves for who they are; however, you should also continue to view your child from a whole person perspective. There are lots of traits, characteristics, needs, and other attributes that make up who they are. Every human being is different and unique in their own way.
Your child's autism is a descriptor for specific characteristics and behaviors and experiences that your child has but it doesn't define them. Just like someone who may have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or depression may experience symptoms and behaviors related to either of those disorders, ADHD or depression does not necessarily have to define that person's life and people should not overlook the whole person.
Do accept your child as an individual with autism.
Even though you should accept your child as a whole person, it's OK to accept their autism diagnosis and identify them as a person with autism. You can also help your child to accept themselves for who they are and to help build a life based on their unique needs, preferences, abilities, and potential.
It can be easy to get lost in your efforts to focus on your child and helping them to get access to all supports and services they can while also maintaining regular household and family responsibilities as a parent. However, it's still important not to allow yourself to feel too lonely.
Sometimes when other people are not going through similar things as you are, especially the people who are close to you like friends and family, you may feel alone. So, it's essential to find people who you can connect to. Find those people who you can count on to be a support system; whether they have a child with autism or not, it's essential to be able to reach out and connect with others.
It can be helpful to connect with people who do have a child with autism as they can share similar experiences and you can support one another in ways that other parents might not understand.
So, in summary, it's okay to have a support system that includes people who do not have a child with autism, such as a friend, or your sister, or your mother. Still, it can also be helpful to reach out to people in the autism community or other parents who have a child with autism, as well.
You might find relief online or in face to face support groups for parents who have a child with ASD. You may also be able to find parent groups in your local community that you can join.
Don't let the autism diagnosis, or the attention you provide to your child with autism, consume your family life, especially if you have other children.
It's important to remember to make time for and focus on your other kids. When a child with autism has siblings, sometimes the siblings have to sacrifice some things for the betterment of the child with autism, and that's okay. However, as the parent, you should ensure that the other children in your family are also supported and given attention in ways they need.
Do make time for each child in your family and for yourself.
There's no one correct answer or one right way of handling this situation, but it shouldn't be overlooked. Be sure to make time for not only your kids but also yourself.
Don't feel guilty for giving the child with autism more attention, more time, and more resources than your other children.
However, try to balance out your attention, time and resources with your other children, as well. Children with disabilities should be given extra focus, but children without disabilities should not be overlooked either. They still have their own emotional, psychological, and physical needs, as well.
You can still enjoy your child, you can still have a healthy and happy relationship with them, and you can still experience fulfillment in your everyday life; the autism diagnosis doesn't take that away from you.
Do allow yourself to cherish the special moments in your everyday life and cherish the little things that make your child who they are.
Try not to compare your life to anyone else's. Acknowledge the hardships but cherish the little things in life, too.
Do try to practice self-awareness so that you can become better at recognizing any oncoming stress or anxiety in yourself, as well as feelings of overwhelm or frustration.
Self-awareness has been found to be correlated with higher life satisfaction and greater ability to work toward and achieve a person's goals, so be mindful and practice being aware of how you are feeling and thoughts you are having.
Also, be aware whether your basic needs are being met or when they need to be refilled. For instance, when you are feeling fatigued, can you come up with a plan to address that in the near future and be proactive in trying to reduce your levels of fatigue? Can you go to bed earlier than you have been? Can you get help with your child at night if they're waking up through the night? Or are you mentally tired and need to take some space and time away (which is perfectly okay)?
Do practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness has many different definitions, but basically, it has to do with being conscious of your experience and what is happening around you and in you.
Being mindful has many benefits and can help you after your child receives an autism diagnosis. It can make you and your child's experience a better one.
Instead of living life on autopilot and just letting things happen without really paying attention, you can use mindfulness to focus on your present experience.
Live in the moment.
That doesn't mean you can't set goals and work toward a future ideal; but meanwhile, live in the here and now.
Do practice acceptance.
Allow yourself to accept your experiences, good and bad. Don't pass judgment on yourself, your child, what is happening, the diagnosis, or anything else.
Acceptance doesn't mean that you don't want to change anything or that you can't try to improve things, but it means you allow it to be as it is.
And then you can gently and compassionately move forward towards your goals for you and your child.
Many people go through their lives without genuinely being mindful and aware of their experiences, both internal and external. Being mindful is something that can be practiced by and provide benefits to everyone.
Research shows that mindfulness can help a person manage stress. It can improve their overall physical health and mental well-being and it can also improve relationships. When you're practicing mindfulness in your daily life, whether you're alone, or you are with your child, or you're doing day to day life tasks, mindfulness can add to your quality of life and provide you and your child with many benefits.
Practice this activity with them and guide them to use mindfulness techniques. Children and adults can use many different mindfulness techniques.
Mindfulness can be applied in very simple, day-to-day tasks. You can become more mindful while drinking a cup of coffee, for instance, by focusing on the heat of the drink, concentrating on your fingertips and your hands and how they hold the cup, and taking slow deep breaths between sips, as well as looking around you and observing your surroundings more closely and in more detail than you usually do.
You can help your child practice mindfulness in simple ways, as well. You can teach them about breathing in and out slowly, about focusing on their senses and different things they experience through their senses; through their sight, touch, hearing, taste, and what they smell.
By practicing these strategies, you and your child can improve your well-being. You can develop greater self-control, greater self-awareness and also make positive changes in the neuronal connections in your brain, which support greater emotional regulation, stress management, and relationship skills.
So when it comes to your child's autism diagnosis, you should teach your child and yourself coping strategies for stress management, for acceptance, and for mindfulness in ways that can benefit you both in your everyday life and that set a foundation for a greater future.
We have provided you with a few recommendations for things you should try avoiding and a few things that we recommend you do work toward after your child receives an autism diagnosis.
It's important to note that there's no one way to cope or respond to an autism diagnosis for your child.
The best you can do as a parent of a child with autism (of a parent of any child really) is to unconditionally love them and support them and give them guidance on being their best self while also not forgetting to take care of yourself, as well.
Last but not least, it's crucial that you do try to access applied behavior analysis services as soon as possible after your child receives an autism diagnosis and a recommendation for ABA therapy.
You can contact Behavioral Innovations to guide you through this process. They will support you along the way and help you figure out how to individualize ABA services to best suit your child's needs.
“Mindfulness Matters.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 June 2020, newsinhealth.nih.gov/2012/01/mindfulness-matters.
Smith, Lisa. “The Do's & Don'ts after an Autism Diagnosis.” Autism Speaks, www.autismspeaks.org/blog/dos-donts-after-autism-diagnosis.