6 Autism-Related Battles that Are Worth Fighting

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They say, particularly as a parent, it's best to pick your battles carefully.  Sure, you could fight over everything from food choices to clothing to hygiene -- but some parenting concerns are far more significant than others. The same goes for battles you fight on behalf of your child: in some cases, the outcome could be meaningful -- but just as often, win or lose, the outcome will have little impact on anyone.

When you're the parent of a child with autism, this advice is particularly helpful. Your child may have a raft of challenges, issues, behaviors, and preferences that cause problems at home, at school, or in the community. You may have a list as long as your arm of frustrations with family members, school staff, therapists, and community members. 

If you fight every battle, you'll wind up exhausted and frustrated -- and you may have little to show for all your hard work.

So which battles are really worth fighting?  Here are a few you shouldn't give up on!

  1. Getting the Right Diagnosis.  If you're the parent of a child with relatively mild autism-like symptoms, it's quite possible that your pediatrician (who, if your child is healthy, sees your child once a year for half an hour) will miss subtle signs of autism. But if you're convinced your child has real challenges that should be addressed, don't stop with the answer "every child develops differently." Instead, find the name of a qualified developmental pediatrician or developmental neurologist, and pursue the issue. Even if your child's challenges are not severe enough to merit an autism spectrum diagnosis, they are probably significant enough to warrant speech, occupational, or social skills therapy.
  1. Getting the Right Therapists.  Many children with autism are assigned therapists by their schools or school districts. Others receive therapies from the person who is nearest, or who takes the right insurance. While this "luck of the draw" approach may result in terrific therapeutic experiences, there's absolutely no guarantee!  And the quality of the therapist is, in many cases, more important to your child's progress than the particular brand of therapy your child is receiving. Even if you can't afford to pay out-of-pocket for private therapy, it's worth your while to fight for a really well-qualified therapist who relates well to your particular child.
  1. Getting the Right Educational Setting. All too often, children with autism are assigned classrooms based, not on their particular needs and strengths, but on what's already available in the school district. It is your child's right, however, to receive a free and appropriate education based upon his individual profile -- and not on what's easy or cheap to provide. If you feel that your child has been placed in a setting that's too restrictive, lacks accommodations, or provides too little appropriate education, now is the time to say so.  Start with an IEP meeting; if that doesn't work, hire an advocate and keep fighting!
  2. Ensuring Your Child's Health and Safety. Lots of kids are picky eaters.  Lots of kids say "no" to wearing "appropriate" clothes. Kids with autism take these tendencies to a whole new level. It may seem too exhausting to insist that your child eat something other than chicken fingers and fries -- and it may seem impossible to get him to stay in the house at night. But as you probably already know, no one can survive and thrive without appropriate nutrition. And while wandering and bolting are not unusual behaviors among children with autism, they are so dangerous that they must be managed.
  1. Helping Your Child to Build on Strengths.  Children with autism are all-too-often thought of and described in terms of "challenges" and "deficits." But like all children, kids on the spectrum also have significant strengths. You may have to fight city hall to get your child the opportunities she deserves to sing with the choir, play with the band, run with the track team, or otherwise build on existing strengths. But that's ok.  Lots of others before you have fought city hall and won!
  2. Helping Your Child to Achieve His or Her Own Goals. Kids with autism may have very few goals for themselves -- in part because they are not aware of what's available to them. When your child does express an achievable goal, it's a milestone in itself. Don't let the opportunity go to waste! If your child wants to dance, play football, find a friend, or simply eat an apple -- do what you need to do to help him make it happen! Sure, you may need to modify the outcome a bit.  For example, your child may wind up playing Challenger football rather than joining the high school team -- but that's less of a problem than saying "it can't be done!"

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