Intended audience: parents of Autistic kids. Though obviously everyone needs Autistic friends.
So your child was just diagnosed with autism. Breathe. Breathe deeper. Relax. It'll all be ok. But you have some work to do.
The first thing
you need to do isn't find therapists. It isn't commiserate with other
parents. It isn't become an AAC expert (though all of these things have
their place!). It's something not in the autism introduction packet: you
need to connect on a human level with adults like your child. You need
to go make some Autistic friends.
I don't mean a
mentoring relationship, though those are extremely important and I am a
big fan of mentoring (and mentoring your child & being friends with
you are not mutually exclusive). I definitely don't mean "translate my
child to me" (which is not a friend thing particularly). I mean find
local Autistic adults with whom you have common interests and connect as
equal human adult people.
There are a whole lot of reasons this is the best thing you can do for your child:
and possibly most importantly but mileage varies: your child is
noticing things. If you go through a mourning phase, or a difficult
adjustment phase, your child will notice and possibly blame himself.
Your child may not have the vocabulary for it, but at some point he will
figure out that he isn't the son you planned for and dreamed of, and he
might blame himself for that. We figure it out when we're a
disappointment, even if you do your best to hide that you're having a
hard time. Many Autistic children get in our heads, accurately or not,
that our parents only tolerate us because they're stuck with us.
child needs to see you choosing to be around people whose minds work
like his. It's much harder to think your parents hate you and hate your
brain when they seek out the company of people who think like you.
Seeing the adults who are dearest to you--and like all children,
Autistic youth default to loving their parents--seeing them find someone
who reminds you of you? That's supremely important. Do not
underestimate the effect this can have, just knowing that your parents
would choose to be around you even if they weren't "stuck" with you.
reason: many disabled children never meet an adult with their
disability. You might be surprised, and a bit saddened, at the
conclusions we come to. Some folks come to the vague idea that we'll
outgrow our disabilities (and when there's no sign of that, we're
reminded that we're disappointing, because you can bet we're getting
that message from someone in our lives). Or, I have friends who
concluded that their disabilities were fatal. That's a recipe for severe
anxiety, thinking that you're dying but you feel fine and no one has
felt the need to talk to you about your inevitable demise. We need
adults like us; this anxiety is completely unnecessary.
child also needs role models. She may not be able to fill your shoes,
or Uncle Bob's or Auntie Bev's or her teacher's or those of any adult in
her immediate sphere. But my shoes may fit, or those of another adult
Autistic. All children need people in their lives who they can
realistically emulate, & Autistic children are no different. I was
pretty young when I knew the adult-woman things being modeled for me
were just not going to happen ever--and alternatives were never
presented. I was surrounded by folks who were similar to each other and
not much at all like me. This is stressful. Making your own make is
hard, and it's harder when everything you do is wrong (the premise of
somewhere between many and most autism therapies, and a message also
sent by peers, random strangers in the store, other adults, etc). Once
again, anxiety. It's easier to believe you aren't Doing It Wrong when
you know happy adults who took similar trails. Knowing options for the
future? Seeing unconventional but fulfilling adulthoods? So important.
you have culturally connected Autistic friends, your child also will
have a head start on a connection to the community. As he grows older,
he will have a life apart from your family. This is a good thing and an
essential part of growing up. The Autistic community is his birthright.
We as a general rule (can't speak for everyone) welcome friendly
parents, but your child is one of us. It's wonderful but also
overwhelming and scary to discover a place where you're "normal" when
you've never been, especially all alone. Even good overwhelm is
unpleasant when it gets too big. You can make this less of a shock by
having Autistic friends. "I'm not alone" doesn't have to be an adulthood
revelation; it can be a given. Your child deserves to grow up knowing
that he isn't alone, that there's a whole community that will
embrace him because he's one of ours. The gift of growing up with this
knowledge? I cannot imagine it having anything but good effects.
Also, we're awesome. Autistic people are loyal and hilarious, among other things. We're good friends.
We might provide insight to things about your kid that you never
thought of, completely on accident. Your way of looking at the world may
accidentally clarify things for us, too. But in my experience, Autistic
people are the funniest people on earth, and the most dedicated to
making sense and to fixing things that are not right (admittedly, my
sample might be skewed, but I also have a very large sample size).
That's how the people I hang out with roll. Making friends with us isn't
just good for your child. We're good for you, too, and you can be good
for us. A true friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship. We have
a lot to offer each other.
So breathe, put down the
pamphlets about all the different therapies, breathe again, and look in
your networks for some Autistic connection. It'll make your life, your
child's life, and some local Autistic's life, better.
Crossposted from Radical Neurodivergence Speaking Radical Neurodivergence Speaking