Dr Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and a national authority on autism spectrum disorders (ASD), offers families guidance and tips for coping with a child’s diagnosis.
Advice for families of autistic children
1. Have hope. Every day we learn more about how to help people with ASD.
2. Remember that your child is an individual. Your child is first and foremost his or her own unique person, then a child, then a child with strengths and difficulties, and only then a child with ASD.
3. Build a strong support system. Find people you can trust to support you as an individual, and then to support you as a parent of a child with autism.
4. Find credible sources. You will hear many contradictory and unfounded pieces of information. Find professionals and resources in which you have faith.
5. Enjoy each other. Do things every day that you and your child can enjoy together. While opportunities for learning are important, shared enjoyment is even more important in a family.
6. Set goals. Try to concentrate on setting small, reasonable goals for your child and figuring out how to accomplish these goals. These goals should be something that you can see happening as a next step, not miles down the road.
7. Make time for your partner. Set aside some time, even just a few minutes, to focus on each other and not the child. Listen to each other’s needs and perspectives as you consider what you will do for your child.
8. Be involved. Children with ASD who have families that devote time to learning and playing with them show more improvements than families who are less involved.
9. Have reasonable expectations for your child’s behavior. Do not let your child do things that you would not let another child of the same age do, such as biting people or climbing on counters. Do not punish, but respond quickly and offer a distraction if things are not going well.
10. Find the resources in your community. Other parents can be important sources of information, but every child with ASD is different. Stand up for what you think are the needs of your child.