As new parents, we knew something was wrong. We could not put a name on it, but our son did not seem to be developing like other children. His motor skills lagged behind. Simply changing the type of sippy cup he used caused a day long meltdown. At night, he would cry inconsolably if he could not sleep with us. We had to give up on the standard advice of just letting him “cry it out” because he could cry it out for three and a half extremely loud hours. In the end, it was his lack of language skills that prompted us to talk to our physician. After a series of evaluations at a nearby children’s hospital, we received difficult news. Our son was diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder called Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). My wife and I were shell shocked, and it took several months for us to adjust to the situation. If you find yourself in a similar circumstance as a PDD parent, you can avoid some of the trouble we experienced by keeping the following four tips in mind.
Accept the Situation
If your child has been diagnosed with PDD by a physician you trust, then the best thing you can do is accept the situation. This sounds easy, but the truth is that it can be very hard. As a parent, your first reaction to learning your child has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder will likely be a mixture of confusion, worry, anger, and even guilt. It is natural to lament the hardships this diagnosis will mean for your child, but it is imperative that you adjust quickly to the reality you now face. Your job after the diagnosis is to get your child the best care that you can provide and to take advantage of every opportunity you can find to treat him. This is challenging, and to do it well, you need to be at the top of your game mentally and physically. Telling yourself that nothing is wrong, or that it’s a phase, or that the doctor’s are mistaken will not help your child, and it leaves you in limbo. Once you accept the situation, life will get a little easier.
Now that you have a name for what afflicts your child, and you are in a position to educate yourself as how best to deal with it. Your doctor may have already given you information on PDD. When our son was diagnosed, we left the developmental psychologist’s office with what seemed like a ream of printouts. Once you have read through any materials your physician has provided, the next step is probably to explore materials available online. There are many good websites that deal with PDD, but there are also some lousy ones. Use discernment and scrutinize the information you find online. Also, don’t forget to use the library. With the increasing number of Autistic Spectrum Disorders being diagnosed in recent years, many good books by experts in the field are being published.
One word of caution: While it is good to gain theoretical knowledge about PDD, the main objective of your research probably needs to be finding practical ways to help your child. Having a great theoretical background is certainly worthwhile, so feel free to take it as it comes, but never let the focus shift from helping your child. Look for activities, communication strategies, and ways to engage your child. One good tip that leads to your child saying a two word sentence outweighs all the theory in the world.
Take Advantage of Treatment and Programs
After our son was diagnosed, we quickly learned that many programs exist to help children with PDD. In our area, a program called Help Me Grow did wonders for us. They arranged for evaluations, provide access to early intervention services, and helped us make arrangements for special needs preschool. We also came to appreciate the results that can come from Speech and Occupational Therapy. After just six months, our son’s vocabulary has exploded, and he is doing much better with his sensory sensitivity issues. If you think you would feel awkward using these sorts of programs or taking advantage of available funds when you are in a decent financial situation, you should reconsider. These programs are not there to help you; they exist to help your child. He is entitled to them. If you ignore them, you are cheating him.
Take Care of Yourself
Being a PDD parent is challenging. In the midst of driving to therapy, researching new treatments, and dealing with your child’s more autistic moments, do not forget to take care of yourself as well. Find time each day to relax. Do not give up your hobbies. Be sure to make time to spend with your spouse. This is important for two reasons. First, you are more than just a parent, you are person who’s health is valuable in its own right. Second, if you take care of yourself, you will be better able to take care of your child. If you neglect yourself, you run the risk of growing stressed and resentful. You may think you can hide these things from your child, but you cannot. He will sense that something is wrong, and it will make his life even more difficult. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your child is to hand him over to your spouse and go read a book.
Learning that your child has PDD, or any disability for that matter, can be devastating. Once you are over the shock, steel yourself and use these suggestions to face the situation head on. Parents of Autistic Spectrum Disorder children face a hard road, but they also have access to a wealth of information and caring professionals to help them meet their child’s needs. Love and accept your child, and realize that you are not alone.