My child has just been diagnosed with autism, how do I cope with this?

Recently I received an email from a mother whose child had just been diagnosed with autism. She was in pain, and she wanted to know how she was supposed to carry on; she felt all alone.

What I told her was that there are moments in time that are forever etched in your memory-  for example –  I will never forget the moment I heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.  Most Americans will never forget what they  were doing on September 11, 2001 when they heard that the Twin Towers in NYC were hit by planes and were going down.

For a parent, the day you receive your child’s diagnosis of autism is the same – you will never forget where you were, how you were told and what feelings overcame you.  The difference is, that you feel all alone in your pain – it is not a national catastrophe, but a personal one that impacts you just as deeply.  When you leave the doctor’s office, you are all alone in your pain. Unlike a national catastrophe, everyone else’s life continues on just the same – only you, your spouse’s and your family’s life has changed. Even if you expected the results because you felt something was wrong with your child, nothing prepares you for hearing the official diagnosis, and for the slew of emotions that follow. It is awful.

However, it is important  to remember at this time, that you are not alone. There are many parents out there who went through what you are going through, or are going through it now, and connecting to them can be your lifeline.  They will understand what those close to you may not.  You will get autism parenting tips from them. At first you may be reluctant to contact the autism  organizations or  attend support group meetings – it is kind of like joining a club you never wanted to be a member of.  However, getting to know other parents you can talk to who understand what you are going through is very helpful.

Of course, you would rather have heard that nothing was wrong with your child.  A parent goes through many emotions at this time.  It is important to focus on the positive aspect that  now that you know what is wrong, you can move forward, when you are ready, to find the treatments, therapies and strategies that will help your child.

Once you are ready, you will need to get educated about autism. We can help you do that at Autism College.  Our free Library will have information you can use.  You may find our Parent Empowerment Course useful.  Or, how about my books, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and 41 Things to Know About Autism.

In my next post, I’ll provide some useful tips for parents new to autism wanting to know how to cope.

How to Teach a Child or Teen with Autism the Concept of Waiting

There are a few things in life that are certain: paying taxes, death and waiting. No matter who you are, part of your life will be spent waiting. Unfortunately, the “waiting” concept is not one that is picked up by osmosis for many children  on the spectrum. Hopefully, they will have learned this concept  by the time they are teens, but I’m still including it in this column because it is a necessary life skill everyone needs to learn – on and off the spectrum. We all have to wait in line at the grocery store, wait at the doctors office, wait for a turn on our favorite ride at Disneyland, wait at the restaurant for our food. Children also have to learn how to wait  at holiday events,  when traveling, at home for things they can’t have right away or to go out for a ride in the car. As children grow into teens and become more responsible for their behavior, waiting is definitely a skill they will be expected to use in the community.

Teaching the concept of waiting


Here’s one way of teaching the concept of waiting:

  • Make a nice- sized (4×4 or bigger) picture icon that has a figure sitting  in a chair, and the face of a clock on it. Put it somewhere convenient and noticeable, such as the refrigerator.
  • Glue a piece of velcro  on the big icon for putting a smaller  icon of requested item on it.
  • Have a timer available.
  • Have small icons of the child’s favorite items that he likes to request.
  • Have those items (food or toys) within his eyesight but out of his reach (but easily within yours).
  • When child asks for item out of reach, show him the corresponding icon, place it on the bigger waiting icon, and say “we are waiting” and set timer for whatever his capability for waiting  is at this point (10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute).
  • As soon as the timer rings, give him immediately the requested item. Tell him “We are finished waiting.”
  • Do this many times  whenever the opportunity arises and extend the amount of time until the child can wait longer and longer.

Each child is different in how long this will take or for how long he can learn to wait (and this will change as well over time).  Eventually when he is asking for a ride in the car and you can’t go right away, you can tell him “Not now, in 10 more minutes your sister will be ready. We are waiting,” and he will get the idea that he may not get what he wants now, but he will get what he wants eventually. This will lessen his frustration, and subsequently, yours.