Wednesday, 2 August 2017

My Child Has Been Diagnosed As Autistic - Now What?

Well hi there 😊

Thanks for stopping by.  So, your child or someone you know has been diagnosed as Autistic and you don't know where to turn or what to do?  

Do you feel lost, sad, depressed, maybe overwhelmed?

Let me say this first : believe it or not, everything is going to be ok.

Now, breathe.  Nice and deeply.  Let that stress of the unknown float away and carry on reading.

I want you to know that you have done nothing wrong.  There is nothing wrong with your child.  I know you might not believe that now, but trust me, s/he is unique.

Now, the next extremely important point I am going to make is this : your perspective is going to make all the difference.

Yes, it is sad when you first receive that daunting diagnosis.  You will grieve. That's what you need to do.  You expected life to be one way and now it will be quite a bit different.  But it's not the end of the world.  Yes, there will be challenges.  Yes, you will cry.  Yes, you will feel hopeless at times.  

But know this.  What you have been given is a beautiful gift.  A beautiful gift in the form of a child who is going to teach you what love really means.  You will discover how strong you really are.  You will become strong.  You will learn to see the world in an entirely different way.  You will celebrate the smallest accomplishments like you cannot believe!  You will all survive this.

So where to from here?

From our experience with Gabriel, the very first thing you need to do is create a safe, structured, loving environment for your child.  Autistic children usually have very high levels of anxiety because the world can be a very loud, bright, confusing place.  

You will need alot of patience, as traditional forms of discipline might not always work.  Especially when your child has meltdowns or if they self-harm.

How you react to your child's behaviour will play a massive role in how quickly they calm down.  I have always found that when Gabriel has a meltdown or if he lashes out at me, I force myself to remain calm inside.  I reassure him with hugs that everything is ok, that I am here for him.

Meltdowns are a necessary part of life for Autistic children.  It is how they release stress chemicals that have built up over time.  Let them have the meltdown.  From what some Autistic adults have told me is that a meltdown is far scarier for the Autistic child then for those witnessing it.  They are distressing to see, at first.  You will get used to them. But you will notice your child will be calmer after.  And they will improve as your child grows and feels safe with you. 
Visual cards are also extremely helpful for Gabriel.  He has a visual board at home where I put up cards for his daily routine, so that he knows what to expect.  For e.g. - a photo of his breakfast to show him that he will be having breakfast first. Another card for getting dressed, for brushing teeth.  It really makes a big difference to Gabriel's anxiety levels.

Help your child become confident by allowing him or her to partake in household activities.  Don't always do things for him or her.  Break the task down into steps (to wash hands : first turn on tap, wet hands, apply soap etc) It will allow them to become confident in themselves.  And praise them for it.  

Listen to your gut.  Yes, doctors know alot but you will know more about your autistic child.  Trust me on this.

Remember too that no two Autistic children are the same.  They might share common core similarities (such as having meltdowns and stimming) but other than that, are completely unique.

Beware of charletons - there are folks who jump on the bandwagon promising the best therapies in the world, many of which are extremely harmful (biochemical treatments). And they will place you in massive debt if you are not careful. Remember, you know your child and what makes him or her happy. If your child is happy it means their anxiety levels are low.  If they are low they will learn.

Always presume competence.  Your child might take a while longer to perform a task you have requested.  Be patient.  They are usually processing your request. Just because they do not react the way you expect, does not mean they do not understand.  For e.g. I know of an Autistic child who, when asked to put his shoes on, did not respond.  It was finally realised that he had to see where his shoes were first, in order to complete the request.

Reach out to an organisation near you.  There are many Autistic NPO's per city, that offer counselling, workshops, advice etc.

And lastly, never ever give up.  You don't know what the future holds.  With love, patience, perseverance and hope, your child will surprise you in ways you couldn't have ever imagined.