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Your Family and Autism - Stages Associated with Grieving

Autism Speaks

Immediately after the diagnosis you may feel stunned or confused. The reality of the diagnosis may be so overwhelming that you're not ready to accept it or you initially ignore it. You may also question the diagnosis or search for another doctor who will tell you something different.

Sadness or Grief
Many parents must mourn some of the hopes and dreams they held for their child before they can move on. There will probably be many times when you feel extremely sad. Friends may refer to this as being "depressed," which can sound frightening. There is, however, a difference between sadness and depression. Depression often stands in the way of moving forward. Allowing yourself to feel sadness can help you grow. You have every right to feel sad and to express it in ways that are comfortable. Crying can help release some of the tension that builds up when you try to hold in sadness. A good cry can get you over one hurdle and help you face the next.

With time, your sadness may give way to anger. Although anger is a natural part of the process, you may find that it's directed at those closest to you - your child, your spouse, your friend or at the world in general. You may also feel resentment toward parents of typical children. Your anger may come out in different ways - snapping at people, overreacting at small things, even screaming and yelling. Anger is normal. It is a healthy and expected reaction to feelings of loss and stress that come with this diagnosis. Expressing your anger releases tension. It's an attempt to tell the people around you that you hurt, that you are outraged that this diagnosis has happened to your child.

You may go through periods of refusing to believe what is happening to your child. You don't consciously choose this reaction; like anger, it just happens. During this time, you may not be able to hear the facts as they related to your child's diagnosis. Don't be critical of yourself for reacting this way. Denial is a way of coping. It may be what gets you through a particularly difficult period. You must, however, be aware of that you may be experiencing denial so that it doesn't cause you to lose focus on your child's treatment.

Try not to "shoot the messenger." When someone, a professional, a therapist or a teacher, tells you something that is hard to hear about your child, consider that they are trying to help you so that you can address the problem. It is important not to alienate people who can give you helpful feedback and monitoring of your child's progress. Whether you agree or not, try to thank them for the information. If you are upset, try considering their information when you have had a chance to calm down.

You may feel isolated and lonely. These feelings may have many causes. Loneliness may also come from the fact that in your new situation you simply don't feel you have the time to contact friends or family for company or that, if you did reach out, they wouldn't understand or be supportive. In the pages that follow, we have some suggestions for taking care of yourself and for getting the support you need.

Ultimately, you may feel a sense of acceptance. It's helpful to distinguish between accepting that your child has been diagnosed with autism and accepting autism. Accepting the diagnosis simply means that you are ready to advocate for your child. The period following an autism diagnosis can be very challenging, even for the most harmonious families. Although the child affected by autism may never experience the negative emotions associated with the diagnosis, parents, siblings and extended family members may each process the diagnosis in different ways, and at different rates.

Give yourself time to adjust
Be patient with yourself. It will take some time to understand your child's disorder and the impact it has on you and your family. Difficult emotions may resurface from time to time. There may be times when you feel helpless and angry that autism has resulted in a life that is much different than you had planned. But you will also experience feelings of hope as your child begins to make progress.

back to topIt is not easy to hear the news that your child has autism, and realize that your life will be utterly different than you had expected it to be. Daily life with a special-needs child presents many unique challenges. How do you come to terms with the fact that your child has autism? How do you cope once you get over the initial shock? We aim to help you by providing regular features on topics ranging from how autism affects your family to day-to-day survival strategies.

You are never prepared for a diagnosis of autism. It is likely that you will experience a range of emotions. It is painful to love so much, to want something so much, and not quite get it. You want your child to get better so much you may feel some of the stages commonly associated with grieving. You may "revisit" these feelings from time to time in the future. Part of moving forward, is dealing with your own needs and emotions along the way.





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