The Challenges of Raising a Child With Autism
Raising an autistic child is a long journey, but parents have many options and places to turn for help.
Looking back, Cori Ayala understands that the signs made sense. Before her son Evan was diagnosed with autism at age 3, he had behaved differently from his older brother, Alex. Evan was happy and affectionate, Ayala says. But "he developed pretty rigid routines that had to be adhered to or he would just totally fall apart."
When she walked Alex to his school in Sacramento, Calif., Evan insisted that they take the exact same route and use the same entry to school every day. When he slept, his parents had to lay his blanket the exact same way, with the same edge touching his upper body. By age 2, Evan spoke no words -- not even "Mama" or "Dada."
When Evan was diagnosed with autism, Ayala says, "It was one of the worst days of my life. I was paralyzed. I was numb. I wanted to retreat to my little house and just close down. I was absolutely devastated and so was my husband.
"I was so afraid of that word 'autism' because I thought of Rain Man and other people with autistic kids who were nonverbal and mentally retarded. I had no idea what Evan was going to be like."
Mary Beth Steinfeld, MD, the developmental pediatrician who diagnosed Evan, understood those fears.
"Mary Beth said to me, 'Don't think about the word 'autism' if it scares you," Ayala recalls. "She said, 'Just think about your son and what strengths he has and where he needs help. Focus on him because he doesn't scare you."
And with those words of wisdom, Ayala -- like so many other parents -- began the demanding journey to help a child with autism grow to full potential.
Coping With an Autism Diagnosis
Robert A. Naseef, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia who wrote the book, Special Children, Challenged Parents. He is also the father of a grown son with autism. Naseef has counseled many parents who have reacted to an autism diagnosis with heartbreak and anxiety, as well as anger and a sense that life has been unfair. He encourages the honest emotions, he says. "You don't have to kid yourself about how hard it is."