Dealing with the Diagnosis
If a therapy works, you'll see results. If you don't, try another treatment.
Nancy Wiseman, mother of a child with autism and president of First Signs, Inc., offers these tips on how to help yourself so you can help your child:
Get online. You can find everything from national support organizations to loosely organized parent chat and e-mail groups. One good place to start: the database kept by the National Library of Medicine (nlm.nih.gov), where you can look up the latest medical studies.
Seek out other parents for support. You're dealing with so many new feelings, ones that your friends and relatives may not understand. Most advocacy groups maintain e-mail groups and chat rooms for parents, and local early-intervention or school programs may also offer support groups.
Find the best treatment for your child. Most treatment choices are fairly obvious: If your child has impaired speech, he'll need speech therapy; if he has motor delays, he'll need occupational therapy. But beyond that, things get complicated. When deciding between programs, don't just interview teachers and therapists, but ask to see other children receiving the therapy. "It's not just what methods they use, it's also their personal qualities," says Wiseman. The most important thing is to get your child started on therapy quickly: When something works, you'll see results. When, after a few months, it doesn't, don't hesitate to try something else.
Don't be afraid to fight for insurance. Many companies may balk at covering all your treatments. Make sure you have a case manager assigned to your child, suggests Wiseman, so you are dealing with the same person every time you call. Local support groups are another good way to network and get insider information: "I once had insurance that refused to cover almost anything, yet when I found out they were reimbursing another family with the exact same policy for most of their costs, I fought back and got coverage," says Wiseman. You should also find out if special health plans are available for children with disabilities in your state, and consider opening up a flexible spending account to allay costs.
Seek professional help for yourself. You may be so focused on your child that you are unable to deal with your own emotions, which could include anger, depression, and guilt. "Raising a child with autism can be a major stress -- you're emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and financially strained -- all a recipe for a total meltdown," says Wiseman. In fact, a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco, looked at moms of children with autism and cerebral palsy and found that those who were the most stressed were indeed aging faster than their peers! Don't be afraid to take care of yourself too.