5 Ways to Support the Newly Diagnosed

finding the path after diagnosis of autismI often think back to the day we got The Boy’s diagnosis.  The ex and I went our separate ways – he went back to work, and I drove to a nearby Kmart parking lot to process (i.e. cry my eyes out, hyperventilate, ask myself over and over “What are we going to do?” and eventually call a close friend to talk me through it.  Thank God for her.) The psychologist we had seen had written “Autism Society of America” on the back of a business card, suggested we look them up, and said goodbye.

Once I collected myself, I still didn’t know what I needed, or what our next steps were.  As I think most do, I went to the internet.  Unfortunately, the internet is a big place, and I’m not sure the right tools and support are readily accessible to someone doing their first post-diagnosis search.

So how can we support parents who are new to this whole kit and caboodle?

1.  Support local nonprofits that directly help our kiddos.  The more those groups are supported, the more visible they can be in the community, and the more likely it will be that someone hearing that diagnosis for the first time will recognize the group as a resource they can use.  This means supporting them with money, with attendance at events and workshops, and with your volunteer hours.  Yes, volunteer hours.  It may seem like we have the perfect excuse not to volunteer, but we have to give back if only to our own community – if we don’t, who will?

2.  Make your presence known at the school.  Kids with a new diagnosis will have parents with questions.  They will most likely be asking those questions at the school. If you have maintained a good relationship with staff while dealing with the school, they may just see you as a resource for parents who are new to this whole shindig, and may pass your name along.  Or if there is a group of you parents, even a social group, that goes for you, too.  Schools really do want to help, and may attempt to connect someone with questions to those who may have answers (that’s you!).

3.  Use social media to post “the good stuff” to your friends, and encourage them to share it.  Parents who have questions will inevitably be some of your friends, or friends of friends, and so on.  The more “the good stuff” gets shared and posted, the more people will see it, the more it will be found by those searching for it.  That’s how the interwebs works for good.

4.  When they come to your group, be welcoming.  You may think this goes without saying, but groups are a funny thing.  Sometimes, a group can get an attitude with newbies, and can be judgmental. You don’t have to like everyone who comes to the group for help and support, but the fact remains they need help (and they may need more help than others!).

5.  Respect the process.  People react differently to the news of a diagnosis.  Some will immediately seek out others for help, while others will remain private and need to sort through things on their own.  Don’t be pushy.  Allow them to come to terms with it, and just be a friend.  Just knowing there are others who are going through what you are going through goes a long way, especially at the beginning.

Special needs parents have many, many roles.  One of them should be “guide to others who have just joined the group.”  What would you add to this list?

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Posting Embarrassing Stuff About Our Kids on the Spectrum

So many times I see something on Facebook or twitter, and without me realizing it, it starts me thinking. Thinking leads to writing, and then when I want to refer back to what triggered the thinking, I have no idea where it is, was, or will be.  I apologize for that because I feel I should link back to the source, and if I find it, I will. Sometimes I wonder if its better not to include it, because I don’t want to criticize anyone in particular, just highlight my take on it…

The other day, someone posted on Facebook about how we autism bloggers have a responsibility to our kiddos not to post embarrassing stuff about them on our blogs.  Things their friends may read, things no one would really want posted on the world-wide inter webs for everyone to see.  This is what started me thinking.

This person pointed out the distinction that some blogs take great pains to mask the identity of their kiddo, as I feel I do.  No clear pictures of faces, no names, no locations.  There are people who know The Boy directly who read this blog, but they are all adults who care about him as a person, and would never think differently about him no matter what I posted.

I did a mental review of the types of things I post and could only come up with a handful that might be considered embarrassing for The Boy. And I started to feel a little guilty despite the fact that none of his friends would be able to know this blog was about him.

As long as his identity is a secret, he can do anything!

But I thought some more.  Mostly about why I started this blog in the first place.  It really is astounding when you hear people’s stories about getting “The Diagnosis” – in every single one I have ever read or heard, they felt like they were handed the information and ushered to the door with a “Have a nice day!” and a door slammed in their face.  This is apparently still a problem.  People are given this life-altering information and no help.  I started this blog to share my experiences, so that we could navigate this thing called autism together, so that there would be somewhere someone could go to find out more than what’s in the pamphlet you’re handed as the psychologist turns to the next patient to diagnose.

And some of that stuff is embarrassing.  Our kiddos have deficits in areas neuro-typical kids don’t have to worry about – potty training until 5, or 7, or 12, not knowing bathroom etiquette, puberty… Yes, it’s not stuff a typical kid would like plastered all of the web.  But you have to balance that with the community’s need for strategies, their need to share, their need to brainstorm.

I hope I can walk that tightrope of sharing without invading my son’s privacy.  After all, I am his mom, and capable of making lots of decisions about his life.  As he grows older, I do need to get out of the way and let him advocate for himself and have some independence, but in this case, I think he would be all for helping someone else like him who was struggling, as long as I continue to maintain his anonymity.

This is a grey area for sure. And I may not be right, but it’s the best decision I can make with the information and values I have at my disposal.  Thoughts?

An Open Letter to the Mom in the Doctor’s Office Today

I overheard your friend (daughter? niece?) reading to you from that questionnaire today, and I took notice because of all of your “no” responses. I immediately remembered those soul-crushing, developmental, yes or no questions, the mix of defensiveness and hopelessness when you begin to understand just how far behind your little one is.

“Does your child point to an item s/he wants? Does your child turn pages of a book independently? Does your child say three words?…”

And on, and on, and on. I heard the tone of your voice change the more she asked. I heard you begin to whisper. I glanced at your face to see if you might cry, but you were holding it together. I guessed the tears may come later when you are alone, maybe before you fall asleep tonight.

And I watched your little one. I watched him smile, and observe the other children playing – he was watching close, but something was keeping him from playing along. He looked at me and made eye contact. I waved and smiled. He smiled bigger and looked to you for reassurance, but you didn’t notice.

I wanted to say, “This tall, gangly boy of mine sitting next to you didn’t do any of that stuff either. We had to use flash cards to teach him words. He didn’t point at anything.  They thought he was cognitively impaired because he played with the toys wrong.  But you know what? He is the best speller in his class and uses words like ‘misheard’ and ‘eclectic’ as an almost-seventh grader!”

I really wanted to say, “These questionnaires are a special kind of torture for us, and you are most definitely one of us. You are not alone.  Don’t discourage too quickly.  Be hopeful, because he needs you to be. I have been in exactly that spot where you are sitting and it is awful, but better days are ahead. Believe in that little boy.”

But I didn’t say anything because I’m not sure I would’ve wanted anyone to do that when I was in your place. Maybe I should have. Instead, I hope you get the support you need through this process, and that you realize quickly that he needs you to just do what you gotta do to get him as close as you can to where he needs to be.

And that there are lots of us rooting you on, even if silently from the chair next to you in the doctor’s office.

My little blond boy, once upon a time...

My little blond boy, once upon a time…