Awareness of Autism is growing, which is good in that the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier and more intensive the intervention which often results in better outcomes. However, with awareness has also come anxiety about prevalence, false positives in diagnosing, and misinformation about cause and the desire for an easy explanation (i.e. the whole vaccines cause Autism debacle).
The Autism Speaks website (autismspeaks.org) is a wonderful resource full of information for families and providers on services and research and I encourage everyone to check it out. I also came across an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times a number of months ago that got me thinking. In essence, its aim was to put risk factors for Autism into perspective; particularly for potentially panicking parents-to-be (say that 5 times fast). The author was a professor of science, which I am not, and he charted out the risk ratio for different Autism risk factors. The chart showed that factors such as having a twin with Autism or sustaining a trauma/injury to the cerebellum at birth posed a much greater risk of being born with Autism than say parental age or exposure to air pollutants in utero, for example. His take home message, at least for me after reading it, was that decreasing stress for mom during pregnancy should be priority and that looking at the numbers could help her do that. Perhaps it would, but what if the numbers don’t quite resonate and then mom continues stressing about her level of stress?
I often suggest that stress level (as well as feelings of disappointment, frustration, sadness, etc.) can be influenced by expectations. It is extremely difficult to hope, pray, and look forward to a certain something and then have the reality of that something fall short in some way. Children are a parent’s hopes and dreams and if a child does not fit that glorified mold, a parent may struggle trying to cope with that.
Parents I work with will sometimes feel comfortable enough and gain the courage to admit parenting a child with Autism was not what they had planned for and they feel things like anger, sadness and hopelessness. They also carry tremendous guilt about feeling something other than pure unadulterated bliss towards their child. These parents also share with me tales about their child’s gifts, strengths, and gains among many other incredible stories. With support, parents come to recognize that though different from what they originally envisioned, their individual parenthood experience though challenging is also beautiful, empowering and full of lessons.I bring this up for pregnant parents as well as parents with children perhaps newly diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum to know that there are so many Autism services out there. With supports in place, for the entire family for that matter, great progress can be made. Hopefully this knowledge that there is help and that you are not/would not be alone, decreases stress at least somewhat. Of course, if the looking at data eases your worry--go with that. However, if you would like additional support as a parent or parent-to-be, individually or in a group setting, consider contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-879-0176.