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When parents are first told that their child may have an autism spectrum disorder, it is usually a highly anxious time. Many people know very little about autism and are unaware of what to expect, or what they should do. Some parents may have already suspected that their child was different in some way, or that they did not reach normal milestones, but it is still a shock. Once parents come to terms with the diagnosis of autism they need to seek out information and support and find out about services and treatment.
After you have been given a diagnosis, you may want to request a second opinion. This is your right, and you should not be persuaded otherwise. It is important that you have a diagnosis from a suitable qualified professional such as a paediatrician.
So what is the first thing to do? Well firstly, don’t panic!! Your child is still your child and although they may be behaving a little differently you can still have loving and fulfilling relationship together. Your immediate focus should be your child and what you can do to help them. You are also not alone, there are many parents out there who have been through exactly what you are feeling right now.
To start with, look for information to understand the nature of autism. Reliable information can be sought from books, the websites of the relevant Autism Associations or Societies and from local autism parent support groups. There is a wealth of information on autism, so try and get a good background knowledge of the disorder before enquiring about any programs. You will find a lot of information about treatments for autism, some making wild claims. Talk to other parents of children with autism before embarking on any treatment options or therapies.
Local Support Groups
Once the diagnosis is made it is a great idea to contact local parent support networks or autism association or society. These groups should be able to give you information about services that can help, and you can speak to other people in similar situations that will give you invaluable advice. Your paediatrician, doctor, school, pre-school and local education department should all have information about where to get professional help such as speech and language therapy.
It is important to know that there is a lot of support available when your child is diagnosed with autism. There are many simple strategies you can use to make life easier for yourself and your child. There are also many professionals available to help you with all aspects of your child’s development.
The next step is to contact relevant professionals that can help your child with the relevant intervention and therapy. The paediatrician may have given you advice and/or referred you to some relevant agencies. Schools and kindergartens often have contact with specialist professionals to help with special needs. Not all children will need lots of specialist attention, and some may just require some minor input from a couple of professionals.
A suitably trained Speech and Language Therapist /Pathologist will be able to advise on communication, social skills and alternative communication options. They will also have lots strategies that can help with day to day things like helping the child understand instructions, using visuals, following visual schedules, and expressing themselves.
Dealing with your own grief
Following a diagnosis of autism some parents go through a period of grief. The grief process may cause a number of different emotions over a period of time including denial, guilt, depression and anger. Acceptance can take longer for some people, and some remain angry for a long time. This anger is often aimed at other members of the family or at the professionals working with the child. It is important to look after your own mental health, and if you feel you cannot cope, see your doctor about counselling or medication.
For more information about autism and other communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets with helpful hints about Autism go to the Autism Downloads section.
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