Five Tips for Parents of Children Diagnosed with Autism

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By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

President, bSci21Media, LLC

Being a parent is a full-time job.  Being a parent of a child diagnosed with autism can mean working overtime.

Dr. Denise Kerth, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and coordinator of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program at Rowan University, provides five tips for parents of newly diagnosed children with autism.  Her tips focus primarily on the psychological wellbeing of parents, rather than specific treatment options for children.  But enough talking, let’s get to it:

1. Begin intervention as soon as possible.

Your child has the best chances for success the earlier you start an ABA program.  If your child is under three years of age, contact your state’s Early Intervention Services Department.  If he/she is over three, then Dr. Kerth recommends talking with the school district.

2. Become informed.

You need to take an active role in educating yourself about autism and evidence-based treatments available.  Dr. Kerth recommends the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (asatonline.org). Although many, many, people want your child to succeed, no one advocates for children quite like parents.

3. Focus on your child, not the diagnosis.

Your child is not autistic.  He/she has been diagnosed with autism.  There’s a difference.  A diagnosis focuses on skill deficits, but that isn’t the entirety of your child.  In fact, many individuals with autism are quite skilled.  Focus on your child as a whole person and see the change it makes in your wellbeing.

4. Be kind to yourself (and your spouse).

Receiving an autism diagnosis can evoke many different emotions similar to the grieving process.  This is a natural reaction.  Dr. Kerth says you should “give yourself permission to experience these stages.”  Your family will be better off for doing so in the long run.

5.  Establish your support network.

Reaching out to friends and family is a must.  They can provide you with emotional and logistical support when you need it most.  Autism Speaks also has a 100-day tool kit, which includes tips on how to build a strong support network.

If you are a parent of a child diagnosed with autism or other disorder, tell us your story in the comments below.  Also, be sure to keep in touch with bSci21 via email subscription to receive new articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org.

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10 Comments on "Five Tips for Parents of Children Diagnosed with Autism"

  1. Johna Sommer | April 18, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Reply

    Thank you for including that children are not “autistic” as their label does not define who they are. They have autism, which they can recover from in some cases.

  2. I am glad you said they have autism. I hate the word autistic and never use it when referring to my son. He is bright and loving. He has autism, he is not autistic.

  3. I would also add that there are many great providers such as myself that accept insurance. School districts do not typically give an abundance of hours of ABA once a child is 3. You can check us out at http://www.ajbehavioral.com

  4. I would add that there are many wonderful tools and resources out there that, in addition to treatment, can make a real difference for both parents/caregivers and for the individual on the autism spectrum.

    I developed ICE4Autism – the ONLY autism-specific in case of emergency mobile app – with the goal of ensuring that individuals on the autism spectrum get the proper, needs-sensitive medical care they deserve. The app stores the individual’s unique information directly on their iPhone or iPad so that it is immediately accessible to EMS, ER and general medical personnel. ICE4Autism takes the guess-work out of knowing how the patient communicates, what sensory issues may exacerbate an already stressful situation, how to contact emergency contacts, and what unique concerns are of particular relevance to their care. ICE4Autism also stores information about the person’s medications, allergies, doctors and providers, and insurance. Though a young child may not have a device of his/her own, parents can/should consider storing their children’s unique information on their devices as part of a plan to advocate for their children and ensure their proper care and safety.

    Here’s a link to more info about ICE4Autism: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ice4autism/id969601780

  5. Please re-emphasize #4. In my experience, this is easily dismissed when therapies are to be schedled and other appointments attended, regularly, other children attended to and a household/romantic relationship to maintain. If parents are not focused on their wellbeing at the very onset of their journey, it can really effect both child and family longterm outcomes. I believe that ABA can easily address this area as part of a family-based intervention. I hope the importance of this is reflected by the funding for services in the future. Data supports this all over the peer-reviewed literature. I expect more will be around, very soon. My two cents…..

  6. Laura Estela Ramírez F. | December 8, 2015 at 6:51 pm | Reply

    Un artículo muy bien diseñado para los padres con diagnóstico reciente en su hijo autista. Mi nieto fue diagnosticado hace seis años, y no es fácil el camino a transitar pero con una disposición solidaria y amorosa dentro del núcleo familiar ya se cuenta con una valiosa ayuda o red.

  7. Thank you so much for these tips. I just recently found out that my youngest daughter has autism and had no idea what to do. I’m definitely going to look into putting her into ABA therapy.

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