Overcoming Fear After an Autism Diagnosis
By Holly Sleppy
My son was diagnosed with autism at age 5. In the weeks that followed, I was gripped with shock and grief as I tried to cope with a diagnosis I barely understood. It took a few months (plus therapy and anti-depressants), but I finally felt strong enough to educate myself about the disorder I knew so little about.
I searched the web to learn about autism, Asperger’s syndrome, individual education plans, behavioral modification…the information was overwhelming and abundant. Sitting among heaps of papers with cold, clinical descriptions of “autistic criteria,” there were times when my husband and I felt like we were totally alone in this new world of “autism.”
But it became clear how “not alone” we were at Evan’s kindergarten orientation.
Evan was going into an inclusive autistic support class. The kids ranged from moderately autistic with minimal verbal abilities to mildly autistic, like Evan. Verbal or not, the kids all needed intensive social-skills education and many needed speech and/or occupational therapy as well to help them overcome the quirks that come with sensory processing disorder.
As our kids explored their new classroom, the parents started sharing stories about having autistic kids. The other parents looked as haggard as we did, as I’m sure this diagnosis was new to some of them as well. The conversations went something like…
“What do you do when your son throws himself on the floor in a tantrum as you’re checking out at the grocery store?”
“What do you say when your daughter loudly acknowledges ‘the fat man’ in the library, who just happens to be A WOMAN?”
“My son only eats bread and cantaloupe…I don’t know how he’s going to survive the lunch room…”
While none of us had many answers at the time, we had compassion for each other. In sharing our mutual frustrations, we found comfort in knowing that we were all in this together.
Looking back now, I can even laugh about it. (Yes, you can survive the embarrassment of apologizing to ‘the fat man’ who’s actually a woman!)
It’s a lot easier to laugh when you gain the experience to know that an autism diagnosis isn’t as bad as it initially seems. This is what I can tell you about being the parent to a child who has autism:
- You will work very hard every day to help your child navigate the very complex social world we live in, and become a warrior in a battle for his education and personal development.
- You will, on occasion, get very tired and want to throw in the towel. It’s okay to feel this way, because you won’t throw in the towel. But you can and should get help when you feel this way.
- You will see beauty in things you may have never noticed otherwise…like a brass doorknob. And the reward in that is greater than you could’ve ever expected.
Most importantly, at the center of your life, you have an amazing gift—your child. You will fight for him. Encourage his talents. And feel a giddy delight in celebrating his successes.
And you will never feel alone because there will be an army of friends and family who will be celebrating and cheering right along with you.
Updated April 5, 2017