Seven First Steps for Parents of Children with Autism
John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Planning for the future of our children begins long before they are born. Yet, when they finally show up, we learn what life has in store.
An autism diagnosis will certainly challenge or complicate the future you envisioned for your child. You will find yourself facing the unknown, followed by a whole range of emotions, questions and sometimes various levels of confusion and not certain what your next steps should be. We hope this article titled “Seven First Steps for Parents with Children Diagnosed with Autism” will help you to develop a roadmap for the best approach for your child’s education and future.
1.Take a breath. Inhale, then exhale.
That didn’t solve all of your problems? That’s fine. It wasn’t supposed to. Taking a breath means taking the time to process your emotions. Acknowledge how you feel. There is no right or wrong here. Turn to your support group. If you don’t have one, now is the time to form one. Your partner, therapist, family members, friends and mentors are all perfect candidates. Think about it. How likely were you to turn to them anyway? Did you really think you would march right into parenthood without a single question?
3. Look for an early intervention program.
Consistent early intervention based on applied behavior analysis (ABA) has been the cause for improvement in core autism symptoms, based on numerous studies. An ABA-based program tracks individualized goals and benchmarks, effectively teaching life skills and foundational learning skills to individuals with autism. Make sure the program is supervised and overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). A quality program will objectively track goals, developmental milestones, etc.
4. Learn the lingo. Get ready for an onslaught of acronyms.
You have EI (Early Intervention), IEP (Individualized Education Program), IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). Each one will reveal its relevance in time. Don’t be intimidated. These are various programs, services, and legal rights that your child is entitled to. You will eventually find yourself becoming an expert. Yes, it does happen! Over time your commitment, love, and attention will transcend into you becoming more confident in your questions, and how you utilize and communicate with your support team.
5. Enhance your support network.
In the beginning, it was friends and family. Now, you have clinicians and caregivers. This “is” your team. You will have to communicate with this network on a regular basis. The members of this network will have to communicate with each other. These programs and services only function if they support your child and your family’s future. Do not make the mistake of shutting down and “NOT” reaching out. The support “is” there, so please find it, build it, and the challenges will seem more manageable over time.
6. Ask questions about educational programs.
When it comes time, there will be essential elements that are critical to any successful plan for an autistic student. Do the teacher and school support staff have both the training and experience in working with autistic children? Does he or she have both implicit and explicit support from the school administration? Is there access to resources, training, and materials as needed? Both you and your child’s teacher will want to modify programs and curriculum based on your child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Program). Supportive therapies, such as speech, physical and occupational therapy, should all be available on site and free of additional charge.
7. Ask questions about your child.
You will have to choose the best educational options based on your child. Is he or she verbal and engaged? How are his or her academic skills? Think about how your child handles large groups. Consider how he or she does with a lot of sensory input. Are there behavioral and mental health complications that need to be addressed within the support team. Does your child have difficulty with focus? Everything you have learned so far will factor into your decisions.
There will continue to be details and questions that will arise from day to day, week to week. You will need to stay on top of them but you will also have doctors, teachers, and school staff to rely on. No matter what, there is one person who will grow to be your greatest resource: your child.
Alpha School an private special education school in New Jersey
Our Mission at The Alpha School is to help all of our special needs students with the learning, social, language, and behavioral support they deserve. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student to becoming the best they can while providing a safe and nurturing educational environment.
We would be more than happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.370.1150, or request a tour of Alpha School of Jackson, NJ located just minutes off of Route 9 and Route 195 in Ocean County.
— Monica DeTuro, Principal-Alpha School, Jackson, NJ