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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...

But "all the while, love makes giving up unthinkable," Naseef says. "The good thing about getting the diagnosis is that then you get a direction in what will help your child. Usually, when kids get the right help and start making progress, their parent's mood brightens and you have some hope again."

Early intervention is key, experts say. "Parents have to get going right away because time is of the essence. You need to get focused on what your mission is," says Nancy D. Wiseman, founder and president of First Signs Inc., a nonprofit organization that educates parents and professionals about early signs and treatment of autism.

"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 understand realities.

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."

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Would the fear of autism keep you from getting your child vaccinated?