To the Parent of a Newly Diagnosed Autistic Child
Yup, I’m “that kid.”
I’m the one that grew up having meltdowns in classrooms, receiving special services (and still do to this day), going through hours of therapy to try and make me somewhat “normal.”
If you’re reading this article, you are probably:
- An autistic teenager or adult wanting to see someone else’s work
- A non-autistic teenager or adult just curiously reading
- A non-autistic parent of a newly diagnosed autistic child who is worried about their future
Well, I have good news. You all, hopefully, will get something out of this, but I am directing this open letter at group C. As an autistic teenager (almost autistic adult), I find it important to be educational and constructive rather than critical.
So to the parent of a newly diagnosed autistic child:
Whether your child is 11 months old (like I was when I was diagnosed), or seventh grade (like one of my close friends), things are going to be all right for them. Don’t worry. You have probably spent hours upon hours doing research on the latest “therapy” methods and questioning “how do I help my child?” Here is my advice.
1.Get a variety of (mostly autistic) perspectives.
While I am autistic, I am not “the autism guru” and I don’t have all the answers. Because autism is such an individualistic condition, it’s hard to discern everything your child’s life will turn out to be.
2. Don’t pity your child.
While autism is hard in certain circumstances, it isn’t always hard unless society makes it such. A lot of things about my autism actually make life more fun, such as the taste of certain foods or my ability to delve into and spend hours of research on a topic.
3. Don’t discourage autistic behaviors.
When an autistic child struggles, it is often because they are not allowed to display autistic behaviors. Suppressing behaviors such as flapping or jumping actually does more harm than good. Your child is most likely doing these things to regulate their own emotions. You do your own things to make sure you don’t get too overwhelmed or explode; this is their way of doing that.
4. Love first, ask questions later.
If your child has a meltdown, odds are they are extremely distressed and scolding them will do more harm than good. If they are able to communicate, ask them what they need to do, whether it is move out of the noisy environment or take a break from the activity. If you scold them, it will most likely make them more upset.
5. Avoid misrepresentation.
Things such as the puzzle piece often misrepresent what autism is really about. Your child isn’t missing anything, they are just “wired” differently. Imagine putting a PlayStation game into an XBox console. That’s basically what autism is like. It’s a brain wired for a different setting than a neurotypical brain. That is why I like to use the rainbow infinity sign instead, which represents neurodiversity as a good thing rather than a thing people struggle with.
I don’t like to be harsh, but I see a lot of misrepresentation of what autism is like in the media and from parents of autistic children. If parents of autistic kids take time to learn and understand from autistic people, then will help them learn ways to give their child the best life possible.
Getty image by RidoFranz.