Autism can be a scary thing. It can be terrifying. Thinking that your child could be different than other children can make you want to cry, but thinking that your child could be labeled as “autistic” just makes you want to crumple on the ground. So you push the feeling aside. You push past the thoughts that your child is acting differently than the others. You ignore the fact that your younger son is lagging behind on the development scale and does not interact with his older siblings the way you imagined.
Some people have no choice but to have their child diagnosed at a very early age, lack of speech, or zero development in certain areas are huge red flags that you cannot not ignore. But, because autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it can range from extremely mild to extremely severe, other parents are able to putting off the diagnosis for years. Some people even make it into adulthood without being diagnosed. Admittedly, in some cases autism can be very hard to diagnose, and can take a very skilled specialist. But this does not mean that you should not pursue a diagnoses if you think your child might have autism.
Autism does not have to be a scary thing, research on autism has increased greatly over the past 20 years and it is understood more now than any other time in history. Though autism is not a simple diagnoses, because every child with autism is different, it is a helpful diagnoses. Lets talk about the way an autistic brain works.
This is an MRI of the brain of someone with autism, and someone without autism. Lets pretend you are talking to your child and you ask your child a simple question, what color is this ball. A child without autism brain (brain pictured on the right) works like a well traveled path, you ask them the question, they hear the question, the connection is made immediately and they are able to give an answer. For a child on the autism spectrum however their mind works differently, you ask them the question, they hear the question, and their brain (pictured on the left) acts as if it has no sense direction. They child knows the answer to the question, but their brain takes a many different paths before it arrives at the answer, all the paths have to do with the answer, but the brain almost never takes the direct path. This is just one way that an autistic brain works differently.
This is a great article, that you can actually listen to, that is also helpful in explaining how an autistic brain works differently.
So, lets take a second and go over this information, a child with autism is an intelligent, thoughtful, curious child, like any other child, but their brain works in different ways. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. It is simple different. So lets calm down a little bit about the word autism, take a breath in, good, breathe out. Good.
Now lets talk about the benefits of having your child diagnosed.
1. Benefits in your child’s education.
Whether your child attends a public school, private school, daycare, or is homeschooled, there are benefits to having your child diagnosed. A few years ago I worked at a daycare and worked specifically with a child that the daycare had labeled, “difficult.” It was clear to me that this child had autism, though his parents refused to have him diagnosed. It had been mentioned to them by many past teachers of day cares he had been kicked out of, and other people that interacted with their child, yet these parents were scared to have their child “labeled.” Many sad things happened surrounding the child not being diagnosed, we were not able to stick to a consistent schedule, I was given no visual aids, or helpful transitioning pieces, he was often pushed into a corner to be left alone playing with the one toy he liked instead of interacting with the other children and lessons that were going on that day. He had multiple meltdowns, and lashed out in anger “randomly.” All of these things could have (almost always) been avoided, or been helpful to this little kid, but because he had no former diagnoses he was left to fend for himself, with no one truly understanding what was going on in his little brain. One sad day, he broke out in anger at another child because of a schedule change that was not explained to him properly by other teachers, and his family was asked to leave the daycare. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Does your child struggle with these things? Then you might want to start thinking about having your child tested for autism. Still not sure if you should. Let me tell you about another set of children that attended the SAME DAYCARE and received completely different treatment simply because they had the autism diagnosis.
A room over from the room I worked in, two little kids, that had the autism diagnoses, rarely experienced the things that my little friend did. Why? Because they had all the benefits that come along with a diagnoses. They had a teacher that worked specifically with them who was trained in working with children with autism. They had the proper therapy, helpful books, and transition pieces to work with throughout the day. When their schedule changed it was explained to them in a way that was found beneficial to them by not only their therapist, but by their teacher, parents, and doctor. They were never pushed into a corner, and always participated in the lesson, because they had someone to help them work through any frustration they might have throughout the day. And though all of those things sound overwhelming at first, these two little kids always had better days than my little friend next door. Even when they had bad days, their day was better. Because they had all the resources that come with being diagnosed with autism.
This is a public education example, but you are able to benefit from the same resources at home with a proper diagnoses. Most of the time you will be given the equipment to work with, the books, the therapy, the guidelines. Your child will even benefit as they age into older grades, help on testing (in all grades including college). Programs that help with higher education. And a list of so many other things.
2. The Benefit in your family life.
Living with undiagnosed autism can be very stressful. Day in, and day out, for every member of your family. Not fully understanding why your child does something, or acts a certain way. “Why does he keep hitting her? He’s had enough punishments to understand that is not okay.” Not understand when your child is trying to communicate something to you, or why he/she is not understanding what you are trying to communicate to them. It is a hard struggle. One that can be helped. Once your child has been diagnosed with autism you will gradually begin to feel a sense of relief, why? Because you will be given resources, book, websites, and countless other things, to help you understand your child. You can then take these new understandings and apply them to your daily life.
You will also be able to connect with other families, other mothers, that are going through the same thing, or have gone through the same thing, you are going through. Do not feel selfish when this comes as a relief to you. Finding out you are not alone in this struggle is a wonderful thing.
3. The benefits of being able to connect with your child.
An autism diagnoses grants you a whole new look into your child’s world and mind. a whole new vantage point from which you will start to understand SO MUCH MORE about your child. You will be able to begin working on communicating with them. You will see the little things they do, things that you never understood, as a window into their thoughts and views of the world. Everything will change in a great way. Your relationship will grow, because your understanding will grow.
Autism can be scary thing at first, but with time you will view it in a completely different way. It is not a horrible label, it is a oppurtunity to better understand your child and help them throughout their lifetime. Do not put off the autism diagnoses anymore. Fear can be conquered and overcome. The Lord is with you.