Two years ago, we got slapped with our son’s autism diagnosis. Feeling a bit shell-shocked, we walked out of the autism-specific clinic carrying a heavy diagnosis and a very light folder that included some pamphlets on what to do now. Of the pamphlets, there was one on creating a living will, one on genetics counseling, and one on tracking devices (for your kid who will likely be a “runner” and may drown in a nearby pond). We also got the lecture from one of the doctors that we can “waste our money on THE diet and all that biomedical stuff that is purely local wisdom and anecdotal,” but he wouldn’t recommend it. All in all, crap sandwich.
I buckled up my sweet little curly-headed two-year-old into the backseat and couldn’t help but wonder about his future. My husband and I looked at each other, emotionally worn out. It was like we had officially been handed down a life-long sentence, and we knew we were on our own. WE would have to forge a pathway for our son and shoot for success because no one else would do it for us. If hope didn’t fall in our laps, we vowed we would go find it for ourselves. So, it was from other autism parents, and in locating the right books, and Googling until we unearthed some treasures of hope, that we created a sketchy map for ourselves. Granted, the land of autism is more rocky, treacherous and mysterious than the Afghanistan wilderness. But the “wisdom of the locals”–as it were–can be the most helpful for locating the caves and navigating the mountain passes, if you will.
So, while I am not the best and brightest in the autism world, I will share with you my crash course for what to do if you have just received an autism diagnosis. Aside from the obvious loving on your kid like crazy, we’re talking first-things-first, and you kind of have to do them simultaneously. Sorry, this will be long. I invite others that ”have gone before” to add to this in the comment section.
MY RECOMMENDATIONS (I’m not a doctor, nor do I claim to be):
1. You must know that you cannot trust everything that your doctors tell you. You’ve got to do some research and take the reins on this one, as scary as that may be. You’ll come to know that there are a couple of schools of thought on autism. You’ve got your “it’s genetics and hard-wired” school, and you’ve got your “something environmental triggered susceptible genes to result in autism” school. Here is where it’s a little like religion. You will probably have to choose what your denomination is because that will influence your course of action, the books you read, the conferences you attend. There is some faith involved. Generally, either you are an “autism Lutheran” or you’re an “autism Charismatic.” (Think, though we’re all on the same general team, one side calls the likes of Jenny McCarthy a heretic, while the other side reveres her as a prophet.) Somewhat difficult to be a lukewarm autism parent if you have any sense of curiosity to find out what happened to your kid.
2. Watch the little documentary we produced, called “Surprised By Autism.” In thirty minutes, you can get a quick overview of some of the basic resources and services to know about, and make a heart connection from the viewpoint of a parent. My husband created this documentary with parents new to the diagnosis in mind, mostly because some of the videos shown at “autism orientation” meetings we attended were old, outdated, and frankly–SCARY! The parents looked like they wanted to fall on pitchforks and get it over with. We were not willing to let that be us.
3. Books you should pick up and devour immediately: 1. All three of Jenny McCarthy’s books: Louder Than Words, Mother Warriors, and Healing and Preventing Autism. 2. Facing Autism. 3. Autism Sourcebook. 4. Overcoming Autism. I know it’s a lot and you probably won’t understand it all right away, but it will give you a foundation you will appreciate, and most importantly, HOPE. (Most of the links are under my “recommended reads” in the navigation.)
4. Yes, I would say you should try THE DIET. Perhaps you’ve heard these code words. GFCF. What in the world, right? Well, gluten-free, casein free (wheat and dairy-free) is the foundational autism diet that many parents attest to helping to “lift the fog” from their child. Smiles can return, attention, focus, etc. First step: eliminate all dairy. You really can do this because there are a lot of substitutes out there, but you must be aware of all the hidden places dairy is lurking, and it’s got to be a very strict approach to see if it’s working. BTW, soy is not a great substitute, as studies are showing, so we’re talking replacing your cow’s milk with stuff like rice milk, almond milk, potato milk, hemp milk–that sort of thing. Get out your Birkenstocks and wool socks, my friend, you will learn to love the health food store–though luckily many of the major chains are coming around to offer these alternatives. You should be able to tell within the first month if there is a difference. Then, you can follow with taking out gluten. I would recommend these books: Book With A Long Title by Karyn Seroussi, and Special Needs Kids Eat Right. And, there are about a billion things on this ANDI website.
5. Know your educational therapy options. So, your county might have some autism services to offer you, along with your school district, and maybe some outside speech and occupational therapies through various centers. Unless you are really keyed-in, you may miss this whole other world called “Applied Behavior Analysis”–or ABA–therapy. I ask you to exercise a little discernment here. In my experience, the county, etc. will tell you that the 3-10 hours of one-on-one therapy they will offer your child is enough, but the research says differently. Recommended therapy for children with autism is 25-40 hours per week, and the most scientifically proven therapy for kids with autism is ABA (which has some offshoots). Look into this option to see if it’s a fit for your child. There are therapists that will come into your home, and there are some autism therapy centers that offer ABA. You can find out more about in-home options at the Lovaas website, or seek out center-based options like Partners in Excellence. You’ll have insurance and money hassles to deal with, but it’s worth it. There are many other options for therapy. I’m just sharing what I know here.
6. Bookmark and refer to these websites often: www.generationrescue.org, www.talkaboutcuringautism.org, www.autism.com. These will lead you to many more resources.
7. Get your child on a path to physical wellness. Autism is not just a genetic or mental disorder. There is stuff going on in bodies of our kids with autism that typically is only being treated by alternative medicine practitioners. Vaccines have likely played a factor, maybe ear infections, detox issues, frequent antibiotics that have messed some things up for your child. The standard autism doctors in the “biomedical” world are called DAN (Defeat Autism Now) doctors. They are licensed and trained in this approach and can be found throughout the nation–many are wellness or chiropractic doctors as well. Go here to find one in your area. It’s not covered by insurance usually, but at least start with a consultation and develop a course of action. There are also things nutritionally that you can do right now, without the advisement of a doctor–vitamins and nutrients that could make a difference. Jenny McCarthy’s latest book is the best I’ve seen to address that, including recommended dosages, brands, etc.
8. Communicate with your spouse. Friends, in the early days, this is a sprint but it’s training you for the marathon. Life is not the same, nor will it ever be. There is grief. There is pain. There is crying. There is loneliness. Faith is shaken. Love is tested. High days. Low days. Hoping days. Coping days. The best of you. The worst of you. It’s all a major journey and process. And, I say that all because you must give yourself and your spouse a break. This IS a big deal, and each of you will wrestle with the emotions and stress in a different way. Just don’t close yourselves off to each other. Be open and compassionate, and try to get on the same page. Fight autism. Not each other. Read this. Eighty percent of marriages fail when faced with autism. Will you make a commitment to each other to close the backdoor, no matter what? Even the strongest marriage will face very distinct trials, and commitment will have to carry you past how you “feel” about each other at times.
9. Get some support in place. Run, don’t walk, to find at least one other parent out there who has a kid with autism, and subscribes to some of the same basic theories as you. Your circle will expand from there. I would say it’s best at first to find one that has a child that is less than 2-3 years older than yours. Their story will still be fresh, and their resources current. You also have to be careful not to compare your child with theirs. Autism is a spectrum. Each child is different. Thankfully, many friendships are able to be forged online these days. That has been huge for me. But, I have a special place in my heart for that one mom that I met with that got me started, let me cry and pick her brain, and took me under her wing in those early days. There are some good support groups out there. I would recommend TACA.
10. Take care of yourself. I’m talking physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally. You may need to find a therapist or counselor. Get in your Bible. Find out God’s promises. Try to get some sleep. Get away from autism sometimes. Go out on a date. Eat right (not emotionally eating, like I’ve been doing). Exercise (do as I say, not as I do). Get out with girlfriends. Sit and have some coffee alone. You NEED this. You’ve got to, or you’ll burn out. And don’t worry… your heart will probably be re-purposed by autism, but you will dream new dreams and brighter days will emerge again.
Well, I think a top ten will suffice for now. There’s a lot more like helpful products and going green for your child, but this will get you started. My hundreds of hours of reading, researching, learning and living about autism boil down to this basic cheat sheet for you. I hope it helps. There are so many of us out there cheering you on. You’re not alone!
Filed under: My Top 10s, Research, The early days | Tagged: ABA therapy, autism, DAN doctor, diagnosis, GFCF diet, Jenny McCarthy, new to autism | 5 Comments »