How to Be the Parent of a Child with Autism
If we’ve ever met, or if you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you probably already know that in addition to being a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, I’m also the parent of a child with autism. That experience has shaped my work, and my life, in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined.
But you don’t have to be a licensed professional to be an effective parent of a child with autism.
Here are three big things I wish I would’ve known after my son received an autism diagnosis. I hope they can be helpful to you as you start or continue this journey.
Recognize that your child is the same person they’ve always been.
When your child gets an autism diagnosis, and in the immediate aftermath, it can be scary. I remember thinking that if my son did get the diagnosis, that would somehow change him. But nothing actually changes. The only thing that has changed is that you know something new about them. And now, you have the opportunity to move forward together, knowing that your child will always be your child. As you go through ABA therapy, your child learns new behaviors and develops new skills. But at their core, they’re the same person. All of the moments you’ve had together, all the connections you’ve shared, those never change.
Lean on the community of other parents.
Some of us, when we’re struggling with a difficult situation, make the mistake of thinking that we’re facing that challenge alone. Or that we’re the first and only person who’s ever felt a certain way. The truth is, there are millions of parents out there just like you, and they’ve developed helpful resources and ideas that can help you right away. In addition to our own blog, check out sites like AutismSpeaks.org and Autism-Society.org. These sites offer videos, articles and guides that can help with nearly every aspect of this experience. In addition, check on Google or Facebook for groups in your hometown that bring together the parents of children with special needs. In Virginia, the Autism Society hosts frequent live events. In Illinois, look for events hosted by C.I.T.Y. of Support. Whether you want advice on a specific issue—or you just need some support on an especially tough day—there’s a whole community out there waiting to help you.
Take it one step at a time.
This may sound obvious, but it’s important to take this experience day by day and remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Some parents let their child’s diagnosis consume them emotionally. Or they drop everything in their lives and stop taking care of themselves to devote everything they have to their child’s treatment. This is not sustainable, and it’s not what’s best for your child—it can lead to burnout, resentment and even problems in your marriage. It’s like the old adage about oxygen masks on an airplane: you have to put yours on first so that you can best take care of others. While life after an autism diagnosis may not be exactly the same again, soon you create a new normal where days, weeks and months have the rhythm that they used to. This can be a satisfying, beautiful new chapter for your family. But you have to take things as they come.
Perhaps the most powerful advice of all would be: if you haven’t started treatment, start now. And if your child has started treatment, stick with it. You are not resigned to a life of tantrums or problem behavior. This doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. But without the hard work and the hope for change, your child won’t get the help they need. ABA therapy can support you and your family as you walk this unfamiliar road together.
Ready to schedule a session with ChildFirst Behavior Therapy? Please contact us at any time.