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Coping Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

In the past, doctors didn't always ask questions that focused on potential developmental disabilities, but these days, especially with the rise in autism, they're much more likely to do exactly that.

Even after a child is diagnosed with autism, some parents will continue to hope that a mistake has been made and nothing is wrong at all. They'll insist that their child is merely a late talker, and the diagnosis is way overboard. Others may try to make excuses for their child's behavior, such as saying, "All two-year-olds tantrum." Others will bring their child to three or four experts, hoping to find a dissenting opinion, before finally accepting the diagnosis – and the necessity of taking action.

Sometimes one parent stays in this stage of denial for months or even years, long after the other parent has already accepted the need to start taking the necessary steps toward helping their child. Unfortunately, a spouse's unwillingness to come on board can put a huge strain on a marriage.

It's very difficult to find out that the child you love so much has a disability, and it's very natural and understandable to hope against hope that the people who have diagnosed him are in error. (Although, as I discussed earlier in the chapter, errors in diagnosis are rare.) But don't let your uncertainty about the diagnosis get in the way of taking action. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the label doesn't matter nearly so much as the symptoms your child is displaying. Deny the autism if you must, but don't deny what your child is doing, and most of all, don't deny him the help he needs to overcome any symptoms he's expressing.

Most parents feel overwhelmed with guilt when they discover that their child has autism. They wonder if they did something during the pregnancy or shortly after their child was born that may have affected the child. I even had one parent ask me if her child could have autism because she and her husband had lots of arguments when the child was a newborn, and they weren't getting much sleep! Another mother asked me if her child could have autism because he wasn't breast-fed.

Feelings of guilt have been compounded by early unsubstantiated psychoanalytic theories that suggested that cold, unloving mothers were the cause of autism. Since then, scientific research has shown that mothers of children with autism are no different from mothers of children without autism, but not until after a lot of heartsick women had already been condemned as bad mothers.

It's natural to wonder if you could have prevented your child's autism, but you need to remember that guilt doesn't help your child. There is no evidence pointing to a parental cause, and while there may be some type of environmental factor to blame, that's not known yet. Don't waste your time torturing yourself with vague fears when you could be swinging into action.


From Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LaZebnik. Copyright © 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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