By Samantha Sallade, PhD
Dr. Sallade is a certified school psychologist who is experienced in evaluating children for autism and other neurodevelopmental challenges. She is the Director of Clinical Outreach of As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments.
Take a moment for yourself and your family to feel and process your feelings about the diagnosis.
You have been on a long road. It likely began the first time you noticed differences in your child. This may have led to hours upon hours of research, lengthy conversations with family, friends, doctors, teachers or caregivers, and a lot of emotions! Then, you determined it was time to take action and go through with the evaluation process. Now that you have arrived at a diagnosis, it’s time to take some time to feel your feelings and process your emotions.
You may feel relieved that you have an answer that will make it easier to gather the resources and support your child will need to thrive. You may feel sadness or grief that things will be different from what you had envisioned. You may feel stressed and uncertain as you think about how your family’s life will change and what you’ll need to do to support your child. You may feel all of these emotions and more.
All of these emotions are normal. At this moment, give yourself and your family some grace and space to process these emotions. It’s okay to spend time working through those feelings – in fact, it’s healthy to do so. You don’t have to jump right into problem-solving mode.
People in your community – family, friends, neighbors, school professionals, healthcare professionals, and others you may not even be aware of stand ready to give you encouragement and align you with resources your child and family will benefit from. To take the first step, just reach out and ask for help.
There is also a wonderful, compassionate community of families impacted by autism that offers support online and in person. Talk with your child’s healthcare team and school or daycare about local support groups. Your health insurance provider may even have a list of resources.
Now, you’re ready to check off those post-diagnosis to-do list items, and scheduling therapy appointments is an important one. Start with your provider’s treatment plan and list of recommended providers.
Educate yourself about autism.
Being a strong advocate for your child is a crucial part of making sure your child gets necessary services and therapeutic support. In order to be a strong advocate, you must learn about autism. Here are a few resources to start: American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Institute of Mental Health, Autism Society and American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. In addition, your healthcare provider can point you in the direction of some reliable information sources.
Make a list of adjustments to make at home.
As you learn more about autism, you’ll learn a lot about the way your child may see the world and what will help your child thrive. Incorporating visual elements, like a picture of what kind of clothes are in a certain drawer, can foster independence. Establishing foundational routines is another way to reduce frustration for everyone. Keep a running list of changes to implement as you are able.
For additional resources, check out some more “Notes from the Doc” blog articles.