Pray to God and talk to your spouse. Seek God’s wisdom and plan for your child. Don’t keep your concerns to yourself. Even if you and your spouse aren’t on the same page at the same time, keep talking and praying. God can bring you together to help your child. Be patient with your spouse as he/she processes the diagnosis. You will both go through a mourning process, but will not hit each stage at the exact same time. Again, keep talking and praying.
Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor. If he/she does not listen to your concerns, you can call your local public school and schedule an assessment yourself, even if you homeschool or your child is not school age. At the assessment, your child will be evaluated by an occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, and psychologist or psychiatrist. A psychologist/psychiatrist is the only one qualified to give the autism diagnosis.
Read books and information from reliable internet sites. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so don’t spend money on books or products on websites that promise to cure your child in five easy steps. I recommend Autism Speaks as a good place to start. And in my book, Speechless: Finding God’s Grace in My Son’s Autism, I quote from other books that were a big help to me, like The Out-of-Sync Child. A Parent’s Guide to Autism is a newer book by Ron Sandison that would be helpful. (referral links)
Apply for benefits for your child through your state. Taking this step first will help you receive therapy, medical care, and possibly supplements. According to a 2006 report from the Harvard School of Public Health, the current lifetime cost of raising a child with autism is estimated at $3,200,000. Any help you can get to off-set the cost to your family is beneficial.
Begin behavioral therapy. The Surgeon General of the United States recommends behavioral therapy for all people with autism. Contact your insurance company to see what they provide/recommend. You can find a certified behavioral therapist through BCBA. After just a few emails, we were in contact with Pam, who continues to be the answer to our prayers. If your child is old enough for school, the special education class he attends may provide behavioral therapy. If not, do it at home.
See a ARI doctor (Autism Research Institute, formally known as DAN/Defeat Autism Now). We waited nine months after James’s diagnosis to take this step, which set us back by nine months. This may be the most expensive, but it may also be the most beneficial step you take toward helping your child feel better.
Address any stomach issues your child has and make dietary changes. Your pediatrician (if he/she is knowledgeable about autism) or your ARI doctor will be able to guide you through this process. You may also want to see a nutritionist and/or allergist. We ran allergy tests, blood tests, stool sample tests, hair tests, and urine tests on James. Each one brought us closer to helping his stomach work better and making his diet healthier.
Reduce the toxins in your home. Replace plastic food containers with glass. Add house plants. Start Epsom salt baths. Switch to organic foods when possible. Your child likely has a weak immune system and anything you can do make your home healthier will help him.
Begin additional therapies as needed. We started with occupational therapy and have now added therapeutic listening. James also receives speech therapy and additional occupational therapy at home. Your school system will help you determine what types of additional therapy your child may need.
Find support in your area. Start with family and friends. They may not “get it” completely, but give them the opportunity to love and encourage you. You can also become involved in a support group in your area. Our biggest support comes from James’s therapists who are also our friends. They love us because we are friends and family through Christ, and they also “get it” because they are in the special needs world.