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.
Coping With an Autism Diagnosis continued...
"Your life is going to be different," says Wiseman, the mother of a
12-year-old daughter diagnosed with autism at age 2. "The dreams that you
once had for your child's future are going to be different. But you are
going to be able to build dreams for your child."
The task is monumental for both child and parent. "The parents have to
provide all this external structure for the child to be successful," says
Steinfeld, who is also an associate clinical professor at the UC Davis MIND
Institute, a research organization on neurodevelopmental disorders. "We
tell people, 'This is a marathon, not a sprint.'"
Read Up on Autism
Parents of newly diagnosed children often know little about autism, experts
tell WebMD. One of the first challenges is to dispel misconceptions and
Children with autism are very different. "There's such a range of
function," Steinfeld says. "There are very high-functioning children
who are going to college, driving, taking airplanes, doing fine. But there are
children who still need supervision and assistance when they're in junior high
and high school."
While authoritative books and web sites are a good place to start, Steinfeld
points parents toward the National Academy of Sciences' "Educating Children
with Autism," which can be found online. The in-depth guide helps to
familiarize parents with the maze of specialists and therapies.
In particular, the "recommendations" chapter "states what the
goals need to be, what the priorities need to be, and how much intervention is
needed," Steinfeld says.
"Children need to have intensive intervention that is teaching them
adaptive skills," she adds. "Left to their own devices, children with
autism are interested in their own special interests -- whether it's something
like self-stimulation or something like a narrow interest, such as excessive
interest in maps, electricity, vehicles, or the solar system."
Build a Treatment Team to Help Your Child
According to a child's needs, parents must work with their child's
pediatrician to start building a care team, Wiseman says. These specialists
might include: developmental pediatricians, child psychiatrists,
speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and
But be warned: Long wait lists are a common complaint, experts say. In some
areas of the country, Wiseman says, "there might be a six-, 12-, or
18-month wait to see some of these professionals."
According Wiseman's book, Could It Be Autism?, parents can be
assertive by taking these steps:
- Ask to be placed on a list of patients who can come in on short notice if a
- Ask your pediatrician to advocate for your child by placing a call to the
- If you can't get in to see the specialist right away, ask his or her staff
to recommend someone else who can help your child during the waiting