Even though my daughter was diagnosed with autism almost 8 months ago, I find that I am still processing the news. Despite creating this blog, and despite the post I wrote for Break the Parenting Mold in which I complained about others trying to convince me my daughter doesn’t have autism, I sometimes doubt the diagnosis myself. Sometimes I think maybe she really isn’t autistic, that she’s just a late bloomer, and it’s all a mistake. Or that she’ll be one of those kids with “optimal outcomes” who lose the autism diagnosis. After all, she has made huge strides since beginning intensive ABA, and her therapists say she is the fastest learner they have ever seen. I’ve had doctors comment that she is “clearly very intelligent.”
But inevitably, just as I’m thinking that maybe my child doesn’t have autism but is really just a smart late bloomer, something reminds me that she is in fact autistic. She might start rocking back and forth or flapping her hands in excitement, or refuse to respond to her name, or refuse to get out of the car in the driveway when we usually do that in the garage, or insist her milk is served correctly or there will be a major meltdown. (It’s often unclear to me what’s incorrect about the milk being served, leading to a frustrated, super mad toddler screaming at me and throwing the milk, and a confused mommy knowing that she in fact really does want it, and trying different ways of serving it until one works. Most recently, the thing that worked was putting the milk in the lowest part of the fridge door and leaving the fridge open so she could get it.)
So my daughter has autism, and probably always will. Therapy has certainly been a huge help, but her stimming behaviors are still prominent, she still has problems with social interaction, she still melts down when routines are changed.
I think a lot of the difficulty in processing the diagnosis is confusion over what it really means to begin with. I’ve read the DSM-V definition, and my daughter certainly fits. But what really is autism, other than just some checklist? Autism is different for everyone so generalized descriptions are hard. Because of that it’s easy to wonder if there really even is a definition, if it’s even really a “thing.” It’s difficult to wrap my mind around what this diagnosis actually means in terms of what my child experiences, how to best parent her, and what her long-term outlook looks like. The parenting one is especially hard, because we are first time parents and there’s no book for autistic parenting. Or rather, there are plenty of books, but as every case of autism is different, they aren’t necessarily applicable to us. I wonder if my guesses about what the best parenting methods are might make the difference between a child prodigy and someone who needs round the clock care as an adult. I am at once grateful to live in a time when autism is recognized and some effective treatments are available, but also disappointed that there isn’t more progress in explaining autism, wider variety of treatments available, and more knowledge about how to tailor treatments to specific children.
I suspect I’ll still be processing the diagnosis and figuring out what autism really means for my family for a while to come.