Life After an Autism Diagnosis: A Comprehensive Guide

A mother works with her son using flashcards at the kitchen table

After your child or loved one receives an autism diagnosis, there are three things you should know: it’s not your fault, you are not alone, and all autism diagnoses are different. Autism diagnoses are more common than you think, with the latest data from the CDC in 2023 showing that 1 in 36 children between the ages of 8 are diagnosed with autism; the increase in the existence of this condition is evident. The growing awareness of autism and the importance of early detection may have influenced the increasing number of children diagnosed with autism worldwide. 

Although receiving an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming and raise many doubts, we want you to know that ABA Centers of Pennsylvania is here to support you with ABA therapy. This approach is research-based and outcome-oriented. With about 60 years of development and evolution, ABA therapy has proven to yield great results in developing skills in children with autism, ultimately enhancing their quality of life.

Each case of autism is unique, and every child requires individualized care based on their specific needs. This article aims to provide a guide containing valuable information about the steps to take after your child receives an autism diagnosis.

What Does It Mean To Receive An Autism Diagnosis?

As mentioned above, each person with autism experiences this condition differently and exhibits varying symptoms. The CDC has described autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a developmental impairment caused by variations in the brain that give rise to behavioral, communication, and socialization challenges. Some individuals with autism display repetitive behaviors, whether motor or verbal. They also tend to have obsessive interests in particular topics and are more sensitive to stimuli such as light, sound, and touch than neurotypical individuals. 

People diagnosed with ASD fall on different levels of the spectrum, a placement determined by the severity of their symptoms. Some children with autism are considered “high functioning” and, with appropriate support, can have relatively independent lives. On the other hand, children with more pronounced symptoms, categorized as “lower functioning,” require ongoing assistance to engage in daily activities.

The three levels of autism are determined by the severity of each child’s symptoms and abilities, as follows:

Level 1: Autism diagnoses classified at level 1 fall into the “high functioning” category; this means that children at this level require less intensive care, as their cognitive abilities are not severely affected.

Level 2: Autism diagnoses at level 2 need more assistance to strengthen their cognitive and social skills. Deficiencies at this level can lead to severe communication problems and impaired socialization.

Level 3: At this level, autism diagnoses are considered severe or “lower functioning.” Children with autism level 3 require more extensive support due to their limited linguistic and cognitive abilities, significantly restricting their daily development. They face more severe challenges in expressing their needs and desires.

What Are The Symptoms Considered When Making An Autism Diagnosis?

Developmental milestones depend on the age of the children. Typically, during medical checkups for children between 18 and 24 months, healthcare providers may observe any delays in cognitive and motor skills development. If such delays are detected, they will likely recommend undergoing an autism test for your child. These developmental milestones hold significant importance for families, as recognizing them can aid in identifying potential developmental concerns earlier in your child’s growth journey.

Some of the symptoms presented by children diagnosed with autism are:

  • Difficulty reading nonverbal cues and making eye contact.
  • Inability or difficulty adjusting to changes or new routines.
  • Repetitive movements include arm waving, spinning, body rocking, rubbing, or finger snapping.
  • Unique interests that can cause isolation from external stimuli, such as certain TV shows and characters.
  • Repetition of words and phrases, known as echolalia.
  • Difficulty playing differently with toys by focusing on small details, such as how the wheels of a toy car roll.

These signs could suggest that a child is experiencing autism. Nonetheless, before establishing an official diagnosis, the medical provider must consider the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM-5).

5 Steps After Your Child Receives an Autism Diagnosis

1. Provide the support your child needs:

Regardless of your children’s symptoms severity, you can support their needs through ABA therapy.

ABA therapy empowers patients with autism to gain self-confidence and acquire the life skill set to successfully navigate their environment and society. 

ABA professionals employ strategies that promote the development of coping skills, daily living skills, fine and gross motor skills, writing and reading skills, social and play skills, and reception and visual skills, among others. All these skills are taught by our ABA therapy professionals at ABA Centers of Pennsylvania through positive reinforcement, always with a human touch and understanding of the pace and needs of each child.

If your child is already attending school, you’ll want to inform the teachers about an autism diagnosis. Notifying teachers about ASD will allow your student to receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to ensure that the school meets your child’s needs and accommodates their development.

You must consult your child’s developmental pediatrician for other recommendations they can give you to support your child’s entire development. 

2. Learn about positive reinforcement and use it at home:

ABA therapy implements positive reinforcement to change your child’s behavior patterns, and continuing this practice outside of sessions is recommended. Positive reinforcement is about rewarding your child’s good behavior, i.e., if your child stays seated in a situation that requires it, you can give a simple reward, such as a sticker, a small toy, or an extra piece of their favorite snack.

When children are recognized and encouraged, regardless of whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical, there is a greater likelihood of repeating this behavior, which results in excellent learning outcomes.

How do you implement positive reinforcement at home?

  • Create a chart in which your children can accumulate points for each good behavior, and after a certain number, they can redeem the points for a gift or an activity they enjoy.
  • Give praise whenever your children behave well. For example, when your kids follow directions and are obedient when an activity is over, immediately acknowledge this action and offer words of recognition.
  • Encourage your children’s decision-making skills. One way to do this is to give him choices in certain situations that are prudent for them to choose, such as picking out their clothes or choosing which toy to bring. The ability to decide will help them feel independent and included.
  • Teach your children that disruptive actions do not get results. If your child starts crying and screaming without apparent danger, it is best to ignore these acts. Generally, crying and screaming are a way of communicating, although not the most desirable. By not reacting to these behaviors, your child will understand that this type of expression is ineffective and look for other ways to get your attention.

3. Make your child’s environment more comfortable:

Individuals with autism are more susceptible to external stimuli such as noise, light, and touch, meaning they perceive the world differently from a typical developmental point of view. Loud noises, bright lights, or new textures can overwhelm them, triggering challenging reactions.

Recognizing your child’s sensory issues will help you to be aware of avoiding them or finding a way to manage them, such as noise-canceling headphones, dark glasses, avoiding introducing new foods, or putting your child in tight clothing.

4. Communicate using visual aids:

Children with an autism diagnosis learn better through visual examples, so visual aids are a great tool when communicating with your child. The Picture Exchange Communication System is a way to communicate and engage with children on the spectrum, avoiding relying entirely on speech. This system includes cards with pictures, images, symbols, and words to teach new behaviors, ask and answer questions, explain situations, or comment on a topic. Anyone who has difficulty with spoken language can make use of this system. However, consult with your medical provider if this will benefit your child.

5. Establish routines and a support structure for your child:

Children with autism generally feel better when they have a routine that helps them reduce anxiety about what might happen next. The predictability of structure in their daily life helps them to meet expectations and feel more comfortable.

Some tactics to create an effective routine for kids with autism are: 

  • Create a calendar that incorporates visual aids and integrate them into your child’s daily routine. 
  • Make a list of rules and expectations colorfully and dynamically to assist your child in comprehending what is going to happen throughout the day.
  • Offer a visual alert when an activity is nearing its end to aid in preparing your child for the upcoming transition.

How Can ABA Centers of Pennsylvania Support Your Child?

At ABA Centers of Pennsylvania, in addition to autism diagnosis and testing services, we provide ABA therapy support for children and teens. Our in-home ABA therapy provides the attention your child needs in a comfortable and reliable environment, which decreases their anxiety levels and enhances their learning.

With our in-home ABA therapy, your child will receive the focused attention of a comprehensive and trained professional. By understanding your child’s unique needs, we will provide the tools and support necessary to develop or strengthen the skills that enable your loved one to lead a fulfilling life and even attain independence if possible.

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