We all have hopes and dreams for our children. We want them to be healthy. We want them to be happy. We want them to have opportunities. To spread their wings and fly.
As a therapist who has worked in intensive in-home therapy programs, I often meet new clients right after their child gets diagnosed with autism. I’m often asked by an overwhelmed mom or dad, “Now what?”
Getting an ASD diagnosis is a hard pill to swallow at first. You may mourn the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for your youngster. You may feel like a first-time parent all over again, unsure of how to navigate this new journey.
Perhaps you’re in this season right now. Perhaps you’ve been here already but you know of someone who is facing autism for the first time. What do you do?
If your world has been turned upside down I’m here turn it right side up. Today’s post will address how to handle the overwhelming feelings that come with getting an autism diagnosis.
Define Your Normal
My child has autism. Now what?
How will you answer that question?
The first place to start is to define your normal. I always tell my first-time clients that there is no such thing as normal. We are all different that’s for sure.
I don’t want to dismiss the idea of mainstream culture though. Most people are comfortable with mainstream differences like my child plays sports, your child is gifted in music. My child loves chocolate ice cream, your child loves vanilla.
People aren’t always comfortable with things like, my child is non-verbal and goes to speech therapy and your child has an IEP.
So while it may be mainstream for parents to coach their son’s soccer team and run their daughter to a birthday party, if you are not doing those things doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your situation.
You do you. Your family does what they do and that is what is important. Embrace the things you and your child does.
Easier said than done you may say.
So what does defining your normal look like?
Recognize Your Child Is Who They’ve Always Been
Now you just have a name to what’s been going on with your kiddo all along. To help my clients come to grips with a new autism diagnosis I ask them before he or she was diagnosed were they different than after you got the news?
Before autism were they free from perseverating on toys and now they just started that? Were sensory issues absent until now? Did they never have meltdowns and now they do?
More than likely kids had all of their challenges before getting diagnosed, that’s why parents probably sought help because they knew something was different.
Now you know but that doesn’t change who your child has been all this time. What this diagnosis does do is….
Gives You A Deeper Understanding Of Who Your Child Is
I often encourage my clients by telling them an autism diagnosis allows them to know their child on a deeper level.
Why did your son always get upset at a crowded store? Why did your daughter hate wearing long sleeves? How come your child loves to spin in circles?
Now you know what makes them tick. Knowing that will help you know how to parent them in the way they need to be parented.
A meltdown in a store isn’t about being “naughty.” Now you know it might be related to something that your child has difficulty making sense of. Now you know how you can help your kiddo when you see the situation through that lens.
It ends the wondering and grasping for straws. When you fully know your child and who they are you will be able to focus your energy in the areas that need it most. Focusing on your child with an autism lense will lead you to….
Figure Out Their Potential
Another thing I tell new parents is that having an autism diagnosis will help their child fully grow into the person they are able to become.
Not everyone can become an NFL MVP. Not everyone gets the Nobel Peace Prize. That doesn’t mean people can’t achieve other things.
Same with autism. Having a diagnosis can be seen as a limitation. Or it can be seen as a potential to be reached.
One of my most memorable moments as a therapist was teaching a non-verbal little girl how to say “Mama” and “I love you.” I saw the angst and pain in the mother not being able to hear her child say that. Every other child can say that to their mom, why can’t mine?
I started working with the girl when she just turned 3. She could only gesture or point to pictures to communicate. She obviously understood words and thoughts, we just needed to help her get them out. We knew she had the potential to learn to talk.
After two years of speech therapy my client said “mama” and “I love you” for the first time. They were the sweetest words her parents heard and they had a deeper appreciation for them.
So she didn’t start talking when she was 1. So she learned to talk when she was 5. While it took her longer to reach her potential she did get there. With a lot of work and her own timeline, she got there! She reached her potential.
The point is to recognize your child does have potential and he or she can get there!
Defining your normal for you and your child is more about addressing matters of the heart than following an easy three-step program.
When you recognize your child for who they are, have a deeper understanding of what makes them make them the way they are and see they have goals to reach you will be able to define your normal.
You may wish your child didn’t need to go to therapy. That going to school is easy for him or her. That she can have friends like anybody else or could go out in public without a special plan.
What you get instead is a deep sense of pride when you see your child grasp a new skill. You cherish the fleeting moments they snuggle into your lap. Love talking about their favorite topics over and over again because that is who your child is and that is normal for you!
Frank Zappa once said, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” Your normal is seeing the progress and growth your child is able to achieve!
I hope seeing autism in this light will help you handle the overwhelming feelings that come with getting a diagnosis.
Elizabeth Purpero is a licensed school counselor and licensed professional counselor-in-training. She has her master’s in counseling psychology. Elizabeth has worked as an autism therapist with children and teens. During her career, she has worked in intensive at-home therapy programs utilizing ABA and play therapy along with OT and speech therapy techniques. She has also worked as a mental health therapist helping clients address their mental health issues as it relates to autism. Elizabeth’s background working with the autism community has greatly helped her work with students in schools too. She has helped teachers implement effective strategies, create goals for IEP’s and make classrooms more sensory-friendly. Mark Twain once said, “Write what you know about,” and Elizabeth enjoys writing about autism-related topics and providing additional resources to help those impacted by autism.