I have observed a wide variation in the ways in which parents respond when their child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and possibly also anxiety and ADHD. Some parents have a negative response and may even experience the classic five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The movement between the stages can pass one from to the next in an unpredictable sequence. At a recent gathering, parents described the difficult experience of raising young children who have ASD. A father whose daughter was diagnosed when she was two ½ years old said that he felt guilty because his child did not receive the diagnosis and early intervention when she was younger. Another parent said that she felt impatient for her five –year- old son to start to act like a ‘normal’ person. A third told me that she had become isolated; she did not leave her home with her child because the child’s tantrums were too embarrassing.
In contrast to the parents who view ASD as a burden are those parents who view it as an opportunity for personal growth. I have met parents who enjoy telling stories about their children’s antics or who collect cartoons about autism. Some parents forge strong friendships with other parents. The Brookline Coalition of Autism Parents provides those opportunities. Other parents discover a passion for advocacy not only for their own children but also as a career. Finally, a growing number of parents respond to their children’s diagnoses by questioning whether they might also be on the autism spectrum, According to an article in the British Medical Journal, 2015, the prevalence of autism has remained stable but there has been an increase in the number of individuals who have been diagnosed. There are neuropsychological testing centers that provide diagnoses for adults. Some parents feel relieved to discover that personal characteristics that have baffled them can be explained as ASD.
There is no general response to the experience of raising a child who has ASD. The experience varies depending on the parent’s personal traits and expectations.