When a child is diagnosed as autistic, it can be a shattering experience for the parents, for this is a developmental disability that will remain with the child for life–it is not an illness that will go away with medical help and medication. Autism is life-changing for the entire family: it will take supreme effort and will demand changes, but it can also open up a way of life that brings beauty and joy.
What Autism Is and What It Is Not
The first thing that a parent should understand when learning that his/her child is autistic, is that this disability was not caused by the child’s upbringing; it is not the parents’ fault! Autism, now called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a genetic condition which altered the brain development of the child, causing changes in how the child experiences and reacts to the world. Primarily, the child will have problems with social interaction and communication, but the child may also have unusual abilities and ways of learning. The term “Spectrum” is used to indicate that there is a whole range in the symptoms and disabilities shown by autistic individuals. No two are alike.
Early Intervention Can Bring Improvements
Research has shown that children with ASD who received early intervention showed better brain function, communication skills and social behavior when compared with those not receiving early help. It is also known that autistic children may take longer, but they can develop and grow. Over the past decades, there has been an increase in resources to help parents understand and provide for the needs of ASD children. Parents can also tap school and community resources, as well as those available on the internet.
New Methods of Testing for ASD
ASD has been traditionally tested and diagnosed using parental reports and through interaction with the child. These observational methods do not pinpoint the genetic cause of the child’s disorder. More recent research has resulted in genetic testing to identify the brain disorders underlying a child’s ASD, thereby serving as a guide to more appropriate treatments. An example of a testing facility whose services are overseen by a clinical team and scientific advisers is Courtegen Life Sciences in Massachusetts, with a branch in Bermuda. All that a parent needs to do is to provide the child’s saliva sample which can be mailed in; the clinical results will be provided to the referring physician.
Support for Parents
There may be local support groups that parents of ASD children can join. Online support groups are also available, along with other resources for parents.
Ongoing Research Continues to Bring New Knowledge
The best way to deal with autism is with knowledge and understanding. Feelings of guilt or trying to deny that the child has a serious disability can get in the way of effective help. What decades of work with autistic children is showing is that autistic children can develop and function. Keeping up with new discoveries and being involved in the learning will motivate and energize, and lead to better results.
“Autism is understanding that certain sounds, social situations, and smells can upset him — and accommodating those needs — shows him he is intensely loved, and gives him the dignity and peace of mind all children deserve.” –Shannon Des Roches Rosa