The short answer is, unfortunately, that no one really knows. Autism is a name given to the cluster of symptoms I've discussed above. But every child expresses these symptoms differently. Don't try to compare your child to other children with autism. Your child is an individual. While one child may have a lot of difficulty controlling his self-stimulatory behaviors, like rocking and spinning, another will find language hard to master and, at the age of four, may still be nonverbal or echo everything you say. One may rage and hit; another may be calm and passive. One may dislike the feeling of being held tightly; another may cling to his parents constantly. You have to get to know your own child and what his needs are before you jump to any conclusions about who he is and what he needs.
At this point in time, no one can predict what a child with autism will be like as an adult and don't believe anyone who says he can. One family we worked with had a three-year-old who would lie on the floor with all of his muscles stiff and straight, screaming nonstop. His parents were told, by professionals, that he would never have friends, that he would never marry, and that he probably would never talk. We started him on a program of interventions, and by kindergarten he didn't have any symptoms of autism whatsoever.
You never can tell. No one can.
But you can make a difference in the outcome.
How to Interact with Your Newly Diagnosed Child
When parents get the news that their child has a serious disability, they tend to question their own ability to parent that child and wonder if they have to treat her differently than they might have otherwise more gently or more severely, more like a therapist, less like a buddy, and so on.
Here's the golden rule: When in doubt, treat your child just as you would treat her if she didn't have a disability.
All parents want to make their children's lives easier, and parents of children with autism are no exception. We all want to avoid situations or demands that are likely to cause tantrums or to upset our children. That's understandable, but if you're finding yourself in a place where you're constantly lowering your standards of good behavior and making excuses for your child because she has a disability, you need to stop and find a new approach. If you were expecting good manners and good behavior from your child before you knew he had autism, or if you expect a certain type of behavior from your other children, continue to insist on those things.
If you had goals for your child, stick to them. Don't assume there's anything he can't master in time. He may never have said a word, but don't let anyone jump to the conclusion that he never will. If someone says to you, "He's not learning X," assume it's the method of teaching that's failing and not the child. Researchers have studied every symptom of autism, and there are many ways to work on everything, from learning first words to keeping the conversation going. Keep trying different teaching methods until you find the one that works for your child.
Above all, don't lower your expectations: expect your child to overcome the symptoms of autism and lead a rich and fulfilling life. Your continuing perseverance is your child's biggest asset. If you give up, your child will never make it.
More on: Learning Differences
From Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LaZebnik. Copyright © 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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