An autism diagnosis is a shock for any family to bear - even though you know it's a possibility. It's not what you want to hear, and secretly you're hoping to hear something different. If you've questioned a diagnosis of autism - convinced that it's wrong and that it can't be the explanation for your child - you're not alone. It's a very usual initial reaction. And after that can come a flood of other feelings and emotions, turning these early days into a rollercoaster ride.
In this article we look at some of the common responses, and consider ways of coming to terms with to the autism diagnosis.
You are never fully prepared for a diagnosis of autism, and - as we said above - refusing to accept it is a very common first response. Rather than face the fact that there's a problem that needs addressing, you might blame the doctors for not understanding your child, or accuse them of getting something wrong.
But although denial is an initial coping mechanism, it's not helpful longer term as it could blind you to the fact that your child needs help. So even if you don't initially agree - even if the very thought makes you angry and sad - take time to listen to the facts and consider the information. Keep an open mind.
Sadness and Grief
These are well known emotions people have to deal with when they receive a serious medical diagnosis. And when that's an autism diagnosis for their child that seems to shatter the dreams they've had for their child, the sadness and grief can, initially, be overwhelming. But they are normal responses, so don't beat yourself up or try to bury the grief. Try to work through this real mourning phase and if you need a good cry, then have one. Just swallowing the pain can cause you more damage. Remember - you're not being depressed; you're experiencing a normal emotion and you can work through it to get to acceptance.
From the passivity of sadness to the exploding activity of anger - and it can happen in a minute, so don't let it take you by surprise. You can see-saw from one to the other throughout the day, and the anger can often be towards those closest to you or towards parents of healthy children. No, it's not pleasant, to experience or receive. But it is a normal response - a way of warning people that you are deeply hurt, and a release of tension. Keeping anger bottled up is bad for you, but so is letting it explode. So talk to people about how you feel, don't try and hide your emotions completely.
Finally - Acceptance
If you're having any of these problems with your child's autism diagnosis, be reassured that they are part of a journey, not the destination. The destination is acceptance and with it the ability of being your child's best and strongest advocate.
Be Gentle With Yourself
All this can take time, and different family members may need more or less time to adjust. Once there is acceptance the real work can begin and you can start to help your child. Research autism as much as you can, get an understanding of the treatments, and see your child begin to make progress. In summary: an autism diagnosis is just the beginning - and it can bring hope.