A Diagnosis of Autism: Making Adjustments to Manage Feelings of Loss and Grief

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Having a child with a disability is every parent's nightmare. Once you have heard the words, "Your child has Autism." the disappointment, anger and the feeling of isolation can leave you in shock. How long you remain there will be determined by how well you deal with your emotions.

Disappointment, anger and self-pity are natural feelings to have when you first receive a diagnosis of Autism. Giving yourself permission to experience these emotions and then letting them go as best as you can will help you focus all your energy on becoming the best person for the job that has been assigned to you.



GRIEF is a powerful emotion and is the most common hurdle that keeps many parents from moving forward. It is extremely important to allow your self to go through and experience the stages of grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining and finally acceptance. Dealing with these emotions in a healthy manner will transform you into a most effective advocate - one that will see the way clearly to maximize your child's greatest potential.



Some parents do not like to use the words loss or grief as it relates to Autism because it implies grieving your child. This grieving process is not about mourning your child but more about grieving the loss of a future you had HOPED for.


You HAVE experienced a loss, a LOSS of the dream you had for yourself, your child and your family - a disappointment about an idealized future. This means that...


certain adjustments need to be made to the vision you held for your child and family. As with any loss, parents of children diagnosed with Autism need to find a way to make peace with the diagnosis in order to move forward.


Just remember the dream you have for your family's future can still be positive, it is just going to be different. In spite of the new category the medical profession has placed your child into, the destination can still be the same but the journey to get there is going to take a unique path.


Important things to keep in mind:

1) You have to get past the hurt, disappointment, anger, and distress. Too much negative energy will only drain you and make you less available to your child.


2) Dealing with these emotions is not only OK; it's mandatory. If you really want to help your child, this can do more for your child than any treatment out there.

3) Keep in mind that this is a process you have to keep working at. You may feel as if you have resolved your grief but there will be days when it returns. Expect it, have a plan to deal with it so you can keep putting one foot in front of the other.


If you can't seem to move forward and days like this turn into weeks, you may be experiencing another emotional block. The best way to shorten its course is to find someone that will listen and help you process your feelings in a non-judgmental way.


This is when you have to call on someone from your support team! This could be a trusted friend - a supportive objective someone - or a professional such as a parent coach or a therapist.


Remember, this diagnosis does not change your child; but it does change how you need to work with your child. Don't waste your time and energy being angry with yourself or the doctors, it does your child no good to linger in a negative state. Forget the what-ifs - look ahead, make the necessary adjustments and set the bar high for everyone, including your child.


The most important thing I tell parents is "Don't focus on the label - focus on finding the best way to connect with the wonderfully unique child you have before you." This new label may help you acquire insurance to cover therapies but it can also keep you focused on the negative so pay little attention to it. Instead focus your energy on connecting to your child's world with thoughtful intention because it will open the door for her to enter into your world, the one she has to find her way to live in.


Every child has challenges and the challenges your child is faced with just happens to have a particular name called 'Autism' or 'PDD-NOS' or 'Aspergers' or 'ASD' or.... Don't let a 'name' cover up the amazing potential that lies within your child.


It may help to remember that your child isn't any different now then he was when you didn't know he had autism. You know he's the same child you've loved since birth. So I urge you to focus on uncovering his abilities, not treating his disabilities, in order to change possibilities!


Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. Visit her website http://www.parentcoachingforautism.com to get your FREE resources - a parenting e-course, Parenting a Child with Autism - 3 Secrets to Thrive and a weekly parenting tip newsletter, The Spectrum.

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