Did your child just receive a new autism diagnosis? Jake Anthony, our program ambassador, has some tips for new parents from an autistic adult's perspective.
Being the parent of a newly diagnosed autistic child can be overwhelming, to say the least. The road that lies ahead is uncertain, daunting, and at times, really scary. Listening to autistic adults will help you understand and support your newly diagnosed child. As a person on the autism spectrum who was raised by two amazing parents, I have put together some tips for new parents from an autistic adult’s perspective. I hope the following tips are helpful for parents, like you, who are new on the autism journey!
1. Remember that you’re not alone
Find support from other parents. When I received my autism diagnosis at the age of four, back in the mid-1990s, there weren’t many formal resources for parents of newly diagnosed children to turn to. My parents received a lot of support, strength, and guidance from other parents of children on the spectrum. My parents found being able to ask questions like “how do you support each other as parents,” “how did you support your child in this type of situation,” or “what particular skills and strategies have you discovered work best?” empowered them and gave them hope for our family’s future. Later, my mom and dad went on to offer that same support to other parents whose children had just been diagnosed.
It’s equally helpful to listen to and learn from autistic adults. As an adult on the spectrum, I cannot tell you exactly what you can or cannot do for your child, but we’re the ones who can best explain what autism is, how it affects us, and what support we need. For meaningful insights and guidance, watch videos, read blogs and stories written from autistic adult’s perspective. Ultimately let your child guide this journey, empowerthemtodiscoverthemselves and the world in the ways most meaningful for them.
2. Embrace your child’s diagnosis
For many parents, their child’s autism diagnosis may cause them to feel fearful of the future. So many questions run through their heads like “will my child ever be able to do this,” “will they be able to fit in with their non-autistic peers,” or “what will autism prevent my child from being able to accomplish?” Remember that while being autistic presents a number of challenges, it also comes with many strengths and is integral to who your child is. Instead of focusing solely on your child’s possible limitations, it is so important to recognize, value, and celebrate their unique gifts! We all have something to offer the world.
Jake and his late mom at Jake’s graduation.
3. This is really good news: now you can get the right help
Receiving your child’s autism diagnosis is a lot to take in, but it can also provide you and your child with so much helpful information. When I received my autism diagnosis as a child, it meant that my parents were empowered to know how to support me. They were able to start to teach me about autism. This gave me a greater understanding of myself from a young age, as well as the opportunity to develop the essential social and life skills I use today as an adult.
4. You are your child’s best advocate
Standing up and advocating for your child’s rights and support needs can be a difficult prospect. Even as you process your feelings, it’s crucial to remember that you are your child’s best advocate. Listen to your child. You know your child better than anyone else — you know what they need and what they want in order to live a successful and happy life. Even if your child doesn’t speak, they could be communicating through stims, expressions of emotion, and behaviours. Be your child’s advocate and share their voice. The love you have for your child and the determination to give them the best life possible will give you the strength to overcome even the toughest of challenges!
“Even if your child doesn’t speak, they could be communicating through stims, expressions of emotion, and behaviors. Be your child’s advocate.”
5. Encourage your child to reach for the stars
Autism is a lifelong journey for your child and you won’t be able to walk with them all the time. They have their own personality and are growing into themselves as people. It’s their life to live.
It’s easy, especially when you’re a parent of a newly diagnosed child, to focus too much on autism as a disability. This can cause some parents to settle for “good enough” in terms of the expectations they have for their children. The important thing to remember is people on the spectrum are capable of so much more than just ‘good enough!’ Take the time to talk to your child(ren) about their dreams and goals. Encourage them to dream big, aim high, and reach their full potential. Presume competency, always.
“The discovery of your child’s autism diagnosis doesn’t change who they are, nor does it change the love that you have for each other.”
Young Jake and Dad
6. “They are still the same child that you love, and they love you the same.”
The discovery of your child’s autism diagnosis doesn’t change who they are, nor does it change the love that you have for each other. Who I developed into as a person by the age of four (when I was diagnosed), didn’t suddenly change because of my diagnosis. A diagnosis isn’t what makes someone who they are as a human being. They are first and foremost your child, not a set of problems to be fixed.
7. Know and accept you can’t be perfect
Accept that neither you nor your child is perfect. Don’t be hard on yourself or your child. Hold their hands and walk together. The important thing to remember is that everything you do to support your child comes from the heart and from wanting the best for them.
8. It’ll be ok
As a child who was diagnosed with autism early in life, it was helpful that my parents’ immediate focus was — “how do we support Jake to grow and succeed in life?” My parents’ choice to take a proactive approach was such a big part of helping me after being diagnosed. It’s easy for parents to be overwhelmed and focus on the daily struggles and challenges, but don’t lose hope. Move forward one day at a time giving your child support today and preparing them for the future. Trust that your child will grow, thrive and reach the goals they set for themselves.
“They are first and foremost your child, not a set of problems to be fixed.”
I hope these tips for new parents from an autistic adult’s perspective have inspired you in supporting your newly diagnosed child. If you have any questions and want to talk one of us, reach out to us here!