To the Overwhelmed Parent Whose Child Was Just Diagnosed With Autism
Today is the day that everything changes, and yet everything remains the same. You have a diagnosis. You have an answer. You have a label. Yet you have the same child in front of you. You have the same challenges. However, you’re venturing into new territory. It can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Take a deep breath. I’ve been there. Here’s my advice.
Today you will start a journey. Embrace the journey. Your path is your own to create. There is no roadmap to follow. Your journey will fit the needs of your child and your family. There isn’t a right or a wrong way. Some days you may choose the shortcut because you are simply too exhausted to do anything else. Another day you may take the scenic route and find yourself overwhelmed by the beauty. You may stop and rest along the way. You may get lost and you may have to backtrack. At times it may feel like a long and lonely road, and other times you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the people who you meet along the way.
There will be times when you will be overwhelmed by emotions. It’s OK to cry. It’s not a sign of weakness. Bringing a child into this world is an enormous undertaking. They carry around a piece of your heart with them. When they struggle, you struggle right along with them, and it breaks your heart. You will feel sad for them as they encounter people in this world who don’t understand them. There will be people who aren’t kind and empathetic. Let the tears flow when they need to.
You can love your child unconditionally, but their behaviors can be extreme and you may be exhausted and frustrated. There may be moments when you will lock yourself in the bathroom because it’s the only quiet place in the house and you just need a moment to compose yourself.
It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you human.
You can’t make it through life alone. You will need a support group. Find friends and lean on family. These people will be like gold. They’ll be there for you on days when you feel like the world in caving in. They’ll listen to you even when they don’t understand. They’ll laugh with you and they’ll cry with you.
There will be moments when you question yourself as a parent. There will be moments when you look back in hindsight and can think of a hundred better ways to handle the situation. You’ll look at other parents and compare yourself to them. They seem to have things under control. They seem to be doing a better job than you are. We strive for perfection, but we are never perfect. It’s OK to mess up and be an imperfect parent. It’s OK to react to a situation. It’s OK to feel like sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes it isn’t.
Raising a child with autism will change you. As the years pass, you’ll look back on this day and be astonished by how far you have come. We mold to the life we are given. You’ll have days when you pull strength from places you didn’t even know existed and days when you feel like you are burdened with the weight of the world and can barely go on. Today is only one day. Tomorrow is the future. One day at a time.
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