Autism. The “A” word of today’s generation.
You don’t want to say it out loud, because that might make it true.
And if it’s true, your entire world just got turned upside down.
You’ve noticed that your child behaves a little differently than other kids his age. He doesn’t use as many words, and he won’t make eye contact. He also seems like he is in his own little world most of the time. And light switches. What is the deal with the light switches?
So where do you start? If he does have the dreaded “A” word, he needs help. And you need support.
Because this is a BIG DEAL.
First off, you need to visit your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will refer you to early intervention services after a discussion of your child’s behavior and your concerns.
This is something that the city/county is required by law to offer, so don’t let anyone tell you there are no resources available. Children ages 0-2 are evaluated by early intervention services. In several areas, Easter Seals works with the city to offer these evaluations and clinicians.
Your child’s evaluation will depend on your pediatrician’s referral. It can include things such as language development, cognitive skills, and physical abilities (fine/gross motor movement, vision, hearing, etc.).
If your child qualifies, these services are typically offered on a weekly or monthly basis, with goals listed on an IFSP, or an Individualized Family Services Plan. There is usually a lot of emphasis on teaching interventions that parents can do as well, at home.
If your child is ages 3-5, then it is the school district’s responsibility to find and assess potential special-needs children. Once again, this is a law, not an option. The district I worked at was large enough that there was an Early Intervention Assessment Center, but you may need to get in contact with the speech therapist at your local school.
If your child qualifies, the appropriate special education teachers and therapists will work with you to create an IEP, or an Individualized Education Plan. This is a legal document that summarizes the testing results as well as lists your child’s goals. It is good for 3 years, and there will be an IEP renewal meeting annually.
Whoa. Let’s pause.
But what about you, the parent?
I haven’t forgotten about you.
This process seems crazy and unfamiliar and maybe you’re doubting your ability to parent an autistic child.
Maybe you were already doubting your ability to parent a child at all.
Honestly, you wouldn’t be a parent if you never felt that way.
I am here to tell you that your child and your life can be every bit as happy, rewarding, and fulfilling as you imagined it would be, diagnosis or not.
It comes from a willingness to accept a new normal. In this normal, progress is still celebrated. But that progress may be baby steps, rather than leaps and bounds.
But it is still progress.
Communication occurs, but only with hard work, highly motivating rewards, and possibly alternative forms of communication.
But your child will communicate.
There will be those frustrating moments when you just want to run and hide and cry.
There will also be those moments that you are so proud of your child you feel you are going to burst.
And in those moments, you’ll realize…you do have a normal life.