Coming to Terms with an Autism Diagnosis
Your child’s doctor has confirmed an autism diagnosis and, in the blink of an eye, a wave of emotions has not only washed over you but is now making you feel like you're drowning. A plethora of thoughts run through your mind: “What are we going to do?”, “How can I help my child?”, “How will his or her life be impacted by this diagnosis?” You might wonder if the doctors have made the right diagnosis or become angry and tell them they must be mistaken.
Before all else, breathe. This is a challenging time for you and your family—you are feeling a million different emotions at once, most of them probably stemming from fear for your little, or maybe not so little, one. Take the time to process these emotions in a way that works for you. During this process, do not lose sight of the fact that your child is still the same precious baby boy or baby girl that has made you smile, made you laugh, and made you cry tears of joy...among other things. Don’t let this diagnosis change your relationship with your child.
Find comfort in knowing there are resources including therapists, support groups, and organizations to help guide you through this journey to ensure that your child, and the rest of your family, have the quality of life you’ve always wanted. Currently, 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism in the United States (CDC, 2020)—that means a lot of families are experiencing similar emotions to the ones you may be feeling right now. Do not be afraid to connect with them. Autism Speaks offers many resources, including local support groups for mothers, fathers, siblings and even grandparents of children on the spectrum. Exchanging stories and building relationships with families who are going through, or have gone through, a similar experience can be incredibly helpful during this time.
It is also important for you to seek therapy services for your child as soon as possible. The earlier you connect them with the services and professionals they need to succeed, the better their lifelong prognosis will be. Early intensive behavioral therapy will help your little one to establish the foundational skills necessary for daily life, allowing them to ultimately reach their fullest developmental potentials.
While there are several kinds of therapies available for children on the autism spectrum, my personal background is in the field of applied behavior analysis (or ABA for short). So, what exactly is ABA, you may ask? Applied behavior analysis is “the science in which tactics derived from the principles of behavior are applied to improve socially significant behavior" (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007). In layman’s terms, what this means is that ABA is an evidence-based practice. It is in fact the #1 evidence-based treatment for autism. The strategies implemented in ABA therapy have been proven to be effective by decades of scientific research. We love collecting data and creating graphs that reflect behavior change. Because ABA is a science, it targets behaviors that are both observable and measurable.
ABA therapy primarily focuses on changing “socially significant behavior”; goals that are essential for development, including social skills, language, academics, daily living, self-care skills, and vocational abilities. The behaviors chosen for change are ones that, when modified, will result in great improvements and enhancements in the client's overall quality of life. Put simply, “understanding (and modifying) behavior in the context of the environment is the basis for ABA therapies" (Autism Speaks, 2018). Because ABA therapy is often provided in the child's natural environment, typically the home or school, your child will learn the skills necessary to function where they need it most.
Behavior analysts, board certified professionals in the field of ABA, work with parents in order to customize treatment plans for their children. Parents have a say in establishing what goals they would like for their children to accomplish, and there is nothing we love more than when a parent is actively involved. We are always eager to train parents on how to implement behavioral strategies themselves so that they feel confident and prepared to handle whatever situations may arise when we are not present. After all, parents spend many more hours per day with their children than any therapist ever will. When a parent is well equipped to interact with their child, the child will be better equipped to conquer the world.
While an autism diagnosis for your child may initially seem frightening, please don’t despair. Yes, autism is a lifelong condition, but there are many resources available to help your child and family attain the quality of life you all desire and deserve. There is hope after all. With love, guidance and the science of ABA, the clinical team at Lotus Behavioral Interventions would love to help your family become an AUsome part of ours.
Autism Speaks (2018). Applied behavior analysis a parent's guide. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/2018-08/Applied Behavior Analysis Guide.pdf
Center for Disease Control (2020). Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder. (2020, March 25). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill-Prentice Hall.
Helton, M. R., & Alber-Morgan, S. R. (2018). Helping parents understand applied behavior analysis: Creating a parent guide in 10 steps. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 11(4), 496–503. doi: 10.1007/s40617-018-00284-8