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Facing Your Child's Autism Diagnosis

When my husband, Ernest, and I finally met with Dr. Diane Henderson, a developmental pediatrician, she told us gently that she suspected Marty had autism. This was her compassionate way of easing the blow. She recommended that we get a second opinion, but we didn't need to. I knew her diagnosis was right. But hearing it was a shock. As she described the condition, I sat in stunned silence, with the word "autism" playing over and over in my head. Minutes later, when I touched my face, I found it was covered with tears. When we left her office, I drove to a nearby parking lot, stopped the car and wept.

I was so afraid for my son — not only for what he might go through, but for how other people might treat him. It took months of love and support from many family members before I could share the diagnosis with anyone else. Right-brained pragmatist that he is, Ernest kept saying, "You might as well tell people he has autism. If they can't accept Marty, they can say good-bye to the Martins. We're a package deal." He kept encouraging me to be more open about it, but I wasn't ready.

"There's no need to call it autism . . ." I told myself. After all, I could truthfully say he was still getting tested and the doctors weren't quite sure about the true nature of his condition. Somehow the vagueness seemed to leave more room for hope.

Most of all, I didn't want to risk the horrible possibility that someone would hear the word "autism" and assume that Marty was doomed.

Like many parents, I also felt a profound sense of loss. We had not lost Marty, the boy we all loved and adored, but so many wonderful things we had hoped would be a part of his experience — going to school with his sisters, playing sports, taking a girl to the prom, attending college, starting a career — had been swept away with a single word.

It was far better — even crucial — to have a diagnosis. But as the implications began to sink in, my fear and resistance were gradually replaced with grief.



More on: Autism

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Excerpted from The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism or Other Special Needs.
Copyright © 2011 Penguin Group.
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