Topics: Autism Spectrum
Perhaps the most pressing concern for parents who have a child with autism or a similar developmental issue is “What does the future hold?”
We don’t have a crystal ball. If we did, joining the circus and traveling the world telling fortunes might prove to be a more helpful career than academic medicine. But in the absence of the crystal ball, all we can do is look to our experience and see what the science shows. We have seen firsthand what the research shows in the thousands of children with autism we’ve worked with, in the many families we’ve partnered with in research studies, and in the families we’ve communicated with at talks, community events, and meetings—that many children with ASD reach a positive outcome.
There are many resilience factors for children and those transitioning into adulthood, but in the end, we circle back to the big-picture priorities for you as a parent. The non–negotiables are the same whether your child is thriving or struggling. The children who do well invariably had parents who were able to do the following:
When we say the children are doing well, we don’t mean that all of them ended up in a regular education classroom or moved to New York City to perform on Broadway or whatever other hope that parents have shared with us over the years. But we mean that the kids and families achieved goals and outcomes that worked for them. For one family, that meant sitting down for dinner together every night. For another, is was having their child stay in school until he was 21 and then live outside the home. These families were able to achieve their goals because the parents exhibited the resilience factors listed above.
And what if you feel like you fall short on some of them? That doesn’t mean you can’t also get your kids to a positive outcome. We just want to emphasize that hitting these targets markedly raises the odds.
We can’t overemphasize the importance of self-care. Stress may be perhaps the most under-appreciated influence on child outcomes. When a parent is overly stressed, it’s very difficult to provide the necessary support and implement the interventions needed. Furthermore, caring for a child with autism is hard. It’s challenging, draining, demanding, and exhausting. Without an occasional break, without getting your own exercise and sleep, having a supportive friend or peer group for yourself, and some good times in your own life, it is very difficult to sustain the journey you need to take with your child. Take care of yourself, and take care of your child.
Lastly, there is ample reason for optimism and hope. Autism is considered a lifelong disorder, but we know that, with the right supports, every person with autism can learn new skills and lead a meaningful life. Through better public awareness, employers and society at large are not only becoming more informed about and accepting of autism, but have also come to appreciate the unique strengths and perspectives that people on the spectrum bring to the world.
– Adapted from What Science Tells Us about Autism Spectrum Disorder: Making the Right Choices for Your Child by Raphael Bernier, Geraldine Dawson, and Joel Nigg. Copyright (c) 2020 The Guilford Press. Reprinted with permission of Guilford Press.