Getting an autism diagnosis for your child can be a shock, which usually mellows down into relief. Your nagging suspicions were right, now you have a name for the behaviours. Once you’ve got your head around the diagnosis, there are probably hundreds of questions swirling in your head. What are we supposed to do? How will we cope? The answers depend on your circumstances, your child and how their autism impacts their, and your, daily life. Here’s a plan which might help if your child has been newly diagnosed with autism (from someone who’s been there).
Ten steps to get through overwhelm to empowerment once your child has been diagnosed with autism:
- Don’t get hung up on the label – autism is a loaded diagnosis: rising numbers of children are being diagnosed. Every autistic child is different and will experience autism in a way that’s unique to them. Take your cue from your child – watch them, discover them, learn how they communicate. Which they will, even if they are non-verbal.
- Buy yourself a lovely notebook and write down the positive, enchanting things your child does, their successes and milestones. It will help you to focus on the positive.
- As much as you can; make your home a haven of safety, calm, order and kindness – you will need a sanctuary when the outside world feels too judgmental or cruel.
- If your child is at nursery pre-school or primary school, meet with the senior leaders to find out how they can support your child’s, social, well-being, and academic needs.
- Schools and nurseries have a duty to publish information on their website about how they support pupils with special educational needs, read that to get a feel for the level of support your child will receive.
- Go armed to the meeting with a list of your most pressing questions: will they support your child’s toileting, eating, how do they tackle bullying, how will your child’s communication and language skills be developed? Is the level of specialist support enough or do I need to ask for a needs assessment (which may lead to an education health and care plan (ECHP)?
- Your child may be autistic, but this doesn’t mean they will under-achieve. Schools have a duty to be accessible and inclusive for all children as they learn, so your child can and should still achieve their potential.
- On the flip side, the most important thing is that your child is happy in school and learns at their own pace. Mainstream schools can present challenges for autistic children, so for some children well-being is the important priority, and the learning will follow.
- The three best places to start your journey for help and support are:
- Your local authority website will list information about how children with special educational needs are supported in your borough – search the “Local Offer” pages.
- The SENDIAS is your local authority information and advice service, you should find a contact or helpline number if you put the name of your local authority and the word ‘sendiass’ in your search engine.
- Go onto the National Autistic Society website www.autism.org.uk and put ‘branches’ in the search box, and you will find a local group, near enough to you.
- Try not to feel anxious, your child will sense your anxiety, so it’s important not to let the overwhelm take over. Approach the diagnosis as a steppingstone to a life of wonder and exploration with your child. Find your calm by reminding yourself that your child is a magical human being and with your guidance, they can overcome the many challenges their difference may present.
Biography: Suzy Rowland is an author, speaker, Autism & ADHD Specialist, and a poet. Suzy’s son was diagnosed with Asperger’s and ADHD aged nine, and, after years of unsatisfactory experiences with schools, she set up the HIS (#happyinschool) project. Suzy’s belief is that parents, educators and children working together, have a unique opportunity to develop radical new systems around educating and supporting children and young people with autism/ADHD. Suzy works in partnership with schools, local authorities, charities and parent/carer groups offering training, dialogue, influence and education. Her book S.E.N.D. in the Clowns is out in summer, you can pre-order here