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Desperation and Coping With Autism (Part One)

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Desperation is the shared feeling almost all parents of autistic children feel at some point. It may be fleeting, but I have yet to meet a parent who did not feel some degree of desperation as they tried to make sense of what it means to their child and entire family when autism is diagnosed.

Since Emma's diagnosis, many people have recommended all kinds of things. Books to read, vitamin supplements, therapy programs, diets, doctors, specialists, DAN (Defeat Autism Now) doctors, Gastro-Intestinal Pediatricians, Neurologists, Developmental Pediatricians, Psychics, Nutritionists, healers, Shamans, Homeopaths, massage therapists, Qi Gong Masters; I could go on, but I won't. When I look back on those first few months after Emma was diagnosed, everyone I ran into seemed to know someone with an autistic child whom they wanted me to speak to or who was doing something they felt might be useful. See "Our Emma," "The Beginning," and "The Beginning (Cont'd)" for more.

Many of these suggestions turned out to be extremely helpful. But in the beginning it was overwhelming. I simply could not process my emotions as well as organize her therapies quickly enough to make good use of the plethora of information I was being given. I made a file, which I labeled "Emma" and threw everything into it. For months I was unable to look in the file. During that initial period, when I wasn't taking Emma to various doctors and overseeing her therapists, often seven in a single day, I was reading books and on the Internet trying to learn all I could. Only then was I able to start going through the file filled with suggestions. It was a difficult period for all of us.

Emma - 2005 - Eight Months After the Diagnosis

As time went on and we adjusted to our life with autism, I found it easier to take the time to investigate a suggestion made. Now when I receive a suggestion and if it seems even vaguely helpful I will pursue it with more vigor. There have been times when people suggest things, which I have already tried or seem very close to something we've already tried and so I dismiss it. And then there are the times I have dismissed something, only to revisit it later. I try to maintain an open mind while being aware that unfortunately there are many people who see autism as an opportunity to make a great deal of money from desperate parents like myself. Anyone can claim anything with little or no proof of its efficacy.

Like the many doctors we have spoken to, parents of autistic children have very strong feelings regarding autism and what will or will not help. With few guidelines and only anecdotal evidence to go by, it is easy to become mired in a stew of conflicting information or as in most cases, not enough information, studies or clinical trials to make a decision that doesn't carry some doubt.

I remember speaking to one mother of an autistic boy who was becoming increasingly violent. She had bite marks on her chest and arms from his latest tantrum. She was frightened of her child and said to me, "I don't want to put him on meds, but there are days when I dread going home. As he gets bigger and stronger I become more afraid. I don't know what to do, anymore. And how do I know the meds won't harm him in the long run? Our kids are guinea pigs."

She was but one of many parents faced with the realities of caring for an autistic child.