By Robert Naseef, Ph.D.
When a child is first diagnosed on the autism spectrum, parents often feel incredibly alone and isolated. This feeling of alienation can impact the family as a whole. It is normal to wonder and not know what is to come. The best antidote to the worry is to find connection in the here and now. Lisa Rudy writes about this in Get Out, Explore, and Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities. There can be “life after diagnosis” for families and children. Families of children with autism, as well as other special needs, struggle to arrive at a place that often comes naturally to most “typical” families.
Generally parents jump into learning about the disorder and its therapies and doing all they can to help their child. This is the normal response and certainly necessary, but unfortunately the family can become entrapped in a lifestyle that is often devoid of fun and engagement that is so vital for healing the upset and hearts broken initially by the diagnosis. This engagement can be a potent fuel for the growth that is to come for the child and the family.
While therapies are vital, lives that revolve almost exclusively around therapy can become tedious and devoid of joy and happiness. Parents who imagined becoming soccer, or softball, or ballet moms and dads become therapy moms and dads. On the other hand, shared interests and activities are fertile ground for real engagement, interaction, and learning. Sometimes the simplest principles can be profound; for example, engagement is central to all of the behavioral, developmental, and educational therapies and approaches to autism and other developmental disorders. Whether a child is verbal or not, there are numerous strategies for all families.
Living as normally as possible is healthy for the child on the spectrum as well as the entire family as opposed to being isolated from ordinary activities such as vacation and travel. By getting out and getting involved in the broad community, it is possible to connect with other families including other families raising children on the autism spectrum. Getting out into the world can lead to discovering a child’s strengths and interests in natural environments that may not be obvious in the school or therapy sessions.
Of course traveling with a child on the spectrum is usually a challenge. Planning and flexibility can make a huge difference. As the parent of an adult child with autism, I am happy about this web site which provides certified resources for parents traveling with children on the Spectrum. Please feel free to contact me with questions and comments, as well as your experiences at DrRobertNaseef@gmail.com