In 2009 and 2010, I conducted approximately sixty interviews with mothers of children with special needs. From the documented interviews, I wrote several magazine articles and a workshop for how to “Support the Family Through the Diagnosis” (which remains my most requested speaking topic). In honor of World Autism Day, I’m kicking off a series of 5 blog posts developed from a portion of this material. I hope this information will empower friends inside a church to better support a mother processing an autism diagnosis for her child.
**Please note that every person and every parent processes a special needs diagnosis differently. If you know of someone affected by autism, pray for discernment as you read these posts. Some information may be helpful and other guidance less relevant to a particular individual or family.**
Part 1: She may feel relief upon the receipt of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis for her child.
While the autism diagnosis may be fresh, there is rarely shock for the child’s mother when a label is finally assigned to her child’s “difference.” The time period between the first hint of a potential problem and the receipt of a diagnosis is at least several months, if not years.
During the diagnosis journey, at least one person in this mother’s circle has questioned her child-rearing abilities. Perhaps she discovered a parenting book left in her mailbox by an anonymous source. Or possibly her mother-in-law reminded her of the value of and Biblical instruction for “a good old-fashioned spanking.” As much as a parent hates the idea of something being “wrong” with their child, the diagnosis may actually affirm a mother for her intuition and parenting skills. Indeed, her instincts were right…her child’s odd or even perceived oppositional behavior served as an indicator of his health (physical or mental) and not his heart.
In addition, with the receipt of an autism diagnosis, the mother may now have a better idea for how to seek assistance. Before the diagnosis, she has likely pursued multiple solution paths for her child…wondering if a processing disorder, anxiety, or a basic developmental delay served as the root problem. With an ASD diagnosis, some guesswork may be removed. Last but not least, upon receiving the diagnosis of autism, Asperger syndrome, or pervasive developmental disorder, her child may now qualify for some publicly funded programs or therapies. The school system may (or may not) be able to provide intervention services to help the child.
Of course, some or none of the above scenarios may apply to a family affected by autism. However, generally speaking, parents processing the autism diagnosis experience somewhat conflicting and unique emotions compared to the family who receives an at-birth special needs diagnosis for their child.
Want to support a mother processing her child’s autism diagnosis? Pray for discernment! Then consider asking her the following questions:
- While I can’t know exactly how you feel, I do know the journey to an ASD diagnosis is usually somewhat labored. Where are you emotionally at this point in your family’s journey?
Meet her wherever she is on her journey, remembering Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
- Do you feel any relief having some new information to work with, or does this knowledge feel overwhelming?
Allow her to be authentic. If she is hopeful, don’t judge her for being in denial. If she is grieving, don’t urge her to “look on the bright side.”
- How can I pray for you today? How can I pray for your child today?
Pray aloud for her, allowing her to know you are envisioning yourself in her shoes. Petition God for His gift of wisdom as she must now assume a more involved and physically demanding role as parent advocate.