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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.

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 others.

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 cancellation occurs.
  • Ask your pediatrician to advocate for your child by placing a call to the specialist.
  • 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 period.

Early Intervention and Public School Programs

Every state has publicly funded programs to help children at risk for developmental delays and those diagnosed with disorders such as autism. Pediatricians can refer children to these services, Wiseman says.

For example, for children under age 3, states provide early intervention programs. Why start with children so young? "Their brain is developing during these early years, and it's committing synapses to a way of thinking. So we're trying to stop the repetitive, narrow thinking or self-stimulatory thinking and expand their capacity to learn other things," Steinfeld says.

For children 3 and older, public school districts are responsible for providing an education through an individualized education program, or IEP. But quality can vary from district to district, so Wiseman advises parents to keep watch over their child's education and services.

Publicly funded programs typically provide speech, occupational, physical, and behavioral therapy, as well as a special education teacher.

While public services are typically free or low-cost, they can be limited. "It usually doesn't provide the intensity of services that parents want," Steinfeld says. Many parents supplement with other therapies, for example, after-school music or play therapy.

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