If you're like most new parents, nothing can prepare you for the day you receive official medical word that your beautiful toddler is not behaving and developing as one would expect.
Even if you suspected something was amiss—why doesn't she look up at us when we call her name? Why does he insist on lining up little toy trains for hours?—hearing the diagnosis "autism spectrum disorder" halts your breath.
The diagnosis delivers a real blow, one that requires you to readjust your expectations for your child and the lives of your immediate family members. If you are new to the world of autism, a fresh diagnosis can make you feel uncertain about the future. It will be important to acknowledge this change in outlook and these feelings of uncertainty so you can find emotional support for everyone in your family who needs it.
But there's another side to the diagnosis. Emotions aside, it's the first step toward getting your child the help he needs to learn the social and communication skills that most children pick up on their own but that children with autism don't.
While researchers continue to search for causes of autism, much more is known about how to help autistic children than 20, 10, or even five years ago—and the information about what to do is more accessible than ever. An autism diagnosis opens the door to those specialized services that can help your child make gains. And the earlier this happens, the better. In that sense, a diagnosis has the potential to be an empowering moment, a call to action.
First Questions to Ask
To get your child's autism diagnosis is to begin asking questions. It's likely that you are discussing your son or daughter's situation with a child development specialist—a child neurologist, a developmental pediatrician, or a clinical psychologist who has the training and background to make the diagnosis. The diagnosis also could come from your child's pediatrician or primary care doctor.
This meeting is a good place to ask questions about next steps:
- What kinds of services does my child need?
- How much of those services?
- Where do I find these services?