Brighter Days Ahead
Despite all the questions that surround the condition, enough is now known about autism to help children have a promising future. "If parents find out that their child has autism, there's every reason to be hopeful that he or she can respond to treatment," says Dr. Dawson. "By starting early, many children, especially ones along the mild end of the spectrum, go on to attend a regular classroom and develop friendships. We want parents to follow their instincts, bring concerns to their pediatrician, and get early intervention as quickly as possible so their child has the best chance at a positive outcome."
Many parents say that they have come a long way since the grief-filled days when their child was diagnosed. Susan Senator, of Brookline, Massachusetts, is one of them. Her oldest son, Nat, now 23, was diagnosed with autism at age 3. "Autism is not the end of the world; just the end of one kind of world," she says. Senator went on to write two acclaimed books about all she's learned: Making Peace With Autism and The Autism Mom's Survival Guide. "Nothing is the way I once dreamed it would be," she admits. "And yet things are very much all right."
Shannon Des Roches Rosa, of San Francisco, whose 10-year-old, Leo, has autism, feels the same. There are many hard days, she says. "But Leo is more capable of pure joy than any child you'll meet. Our family has made our own kind of happiness."