The first step, after the verdict and finding out that your child is having autism, is for parents to deal with the challenges while raising a healthy and perfectly normal kid.
The needs, demands, and ambitions of every kid are different and autism is no exception. As with other kids, the intelligence level varies. Parents have to focus and learn about their behavior and how they can be made comfortable. Their happiness is much embedded in how they are dealt with by their loved ones, especially the parents. Therefore, the whole responsibility, squarely, falls on them.
As they grow, loving and caring parents will learn that what makes them happy or otherwise. As each kid is different, so is their way of seeing the world. But, generally, they feel happy and content when they feel secure and their needs are taken care of, without things imposing on them.
Gradually, parents’ responsibility increases. The utmost advice I will give is to find ways and devise methods to increase their knowledge. Mostly their interest would be focused on one thing e.g., a likeness for one particular song, playing the same game, doing the same thing over and over, talking about the same thing again and again, or asking rhetorical questions repetitively. While they are exhibiting these behaviors, it means they are autistic; their brain processes the information differently and there is nothing wrong with them in general. Parents have to learn over time how to indulge them in knowledge-gaining activities.
The question is how to educate them while they have that particular and unique learning pattern. First of all, parents have to admit that their ways of learning are different and can’t be fixed or changed by any means, so please do not ever try to do that. Learn from them, what they want to do. If they don’t want to go to school, or they cannot cope over there, it is a fine decision to arrange for homeschooling. If a parent can stay home and can willingly take the responsibility, that will be much better, otherwise, a person should be arranged to do most of the looking after till one of the parents is back at home. Most parents argue that if they have to remain home all the time, how will they learn social skills. Believe me when I say that, socializing in ways we are used to is much harmful to them. Gradually, the child will learn and parents will find ways to socialize their child in a controlled environment leading eventually to schooling, etc.
I have not read any books, neither I went to some training center for how to make myself useful to my kid. I didn’t go by my instincts or my gut feelings, I followed my kid. I “listened” to him and stick to the principle of making him a useful and happy person. So, I am just narrating what I have learned and what I achieved with my kid. I want other parents of such amazing kids to arrange a path leading to the betterment of these kids.
Using their unique learning skills, sensory issues, and circumstances, make a comfortable environment where they can exhibit those behaviors easily. Where nobody can see them and either make fun of them or pity them. They will feel much secure and happy when they start trusting you and starting to confide in you.
Listen to your kid, they talk without even saying a word. Look for the interests he or she exhibits. Start teaching them according to their interest. Whichever subject they like, do it more than other subjects. Remove the subjects they don’t feel comfortable with, e.g., Math. These subjects can be introduced later after you have developed confidence in his or her learning and fully understood the way to their intelligence. After that step, start teaching them accordingly and stop when you see the signs of tiredness or boredom. Never judge them, do not tease them, and never compare them with others, not even to their siblings. You will lose the trust, which you have worked so hard to gain.
Years of misdiagnosis might have changed their emotional learning as well. As you start supporting them where ever it’s required, they will start opening up to you, emotionally. Focus on the things that you can provide them. You will be amazed that they know you much better than you have ever realized. They will not ask for much and never will ask for something you can’t afford to provide. This is my personal experience. They are highly empathetic. They can feel, smell, and sense sadness around them. Don’t get worried for them. Believe me, they can feel it and therefore, will make themselves responsible for your worries or sadness, and certainly, you don’t want that.
There will be certain odd behaviors which they will be doing repeatedly. Never discuss such behaviors with others, and not even with your kid. Let them do that, for the reasons you will never understand. For example, my kid leaves a small fan running, even in the winter, to combat and muffle other outside sounds which make him comfortable. He always wears socks even during the summer, day and night.
One very common thing that makes them very uncomfortable is claustrophobia. This may occur in the lifts with a lot of people, or in a place where they can’t see the sky, e.g., a subway station with lots of people. Whenever in such a place, try to hold hands, get them near to you, as you are the only person he or she trusts. Never let them feel they will get lost in such places. Start reassuring them that they are not alone. Keep them with yourself touching your body and holding hands, while avoiding other people having undue rubbing or touching. On the bus or train, try to sit and stand near them or at least in a place, where they can keep you in their view all the time.
When they are growing up, they are scared of puny things like, going out and buy something for themselves. Teach them how to do that, but do not push them to do it themselves only because they are now old enough to handle themselves.
Encourage them to ask questions, watch funny videos with them, or anything they like, and talk so they can ask questions. These questions may appear silly, but not to you, such little things as why people are laughing when a person slips on the banana peel, etc.
Slowly, you will learn that how to socialize them. The best way to do this is to arrange social gatherings or meetings where you are also present. Let them be themselves. At first, they will not intermingle, let them be, do not push them.
What we used to do is to arrange small dinners with our friends, when we thought, he will be comfortable with people now. So, we asked him about the idea to invite Mr. and Mrs. so and so over dinner and discuss with them whether they wanted to go to the cinema with us. If he strongly agreed, we did that. You also try to encourage social gatherings where they can feel comfortable or at ease, like home, open-air, around their favorite animals, etc. It will take time for them to start getting mixed up with people on their own.
Abstract thinking is an alien concept for them. I am not saying that they can’t take abstract, I am just emphasizing that they can’t decide how to react to an abstract behavior. This is one of the reasons, they will not easily socialize. Don’t get sad if they don’t or can’t make friends the way others can! They will when the time is right or the other person is proper. Trust them, they will never let you down.
An autistic kid wants to mix up but on their terms and situations. Our job, as parents, are to raise their understanding of the world, and the world around them will start making sense.
Remember we all share the same world and same needs, just requirements are different.
They will bond with you amazingly, once their issues are resolved and they feel being supported.
There is nothing wrong with them and it is no abnormality. They give us a unique perception only if we give them a fair and unbiased chance of healthy life in which their self-esteem is not hurt; only then we can make harmonious families and societies.
All parents play a major role in their kid’s life, but in the case of having an autistic kid, parents' support and understanding matter more than ever.
In the end, I would like to emphasize that not all autistic kids will be Newton or Einstein, but their intelligence and unique way of processing the world makes them special; and there is no harm if we have some genius among us.
Change is to accept not to label!