A sweet, overwhelmed momma sent me a message this week. She had just received an autism diagnosis for both of her twin boys. She already has them in speech therapy and occupational therapy. She has already been doing everything she can to try to help her sons, without really knowing why. She already knew, prior to hearing it from the doctor that something was going on. But then the doctor said it. They both have autism.
It was one of those moments, I am sure. The ones that just stick and define the rest of our lives, for better for worse.
Both of her precious sons have autism.
And her only question for me?
“Where do I start?”
My heart broke for her.
I remember being this momma. I remember walking out of the doctor’s office, thinking everything had changed, but I had no real idea of what I was supposed to do differently once I got home and back to mothering my son.
I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t someone tell me what I am supposed to do?”
I remember thinking, “Even if someone tells me, I don’t think I can do it. I am freaking out. I am depressed. I am too tired to do anything right now.”
I remember thinking, “He has autism. He has autism. He has autism,” over and over again, letting it sink in, wanting to accept it, needing to get my head to embrace it, so that my heart would stop clenching inside my chest.
And through all of my own processing, anxiety attacks, and grief – my son was still the exact same boy that he was before I walked out of the doctor’s office that day with a diagnosis.
He still is.
The truth is that a diagnosis changes everything and it changes nothing.
This momma left the doctor’s office with almost no direction – only more appointments with more doctors.
And I what I told her is what I would tell any parent in the same situation, in the newness and confusion and fog of an autism diagnosis.
It is okay to just do nothing for now.
It is okay to go home and go out for ice cream.
It is okay to snuggle up with your child tonight, and just watch that video she loves and over and over again.
It is okay to get a babysitter and get out with your husband. Don’t talk about autism at all, or talk about nothing else – spend the time the way you need to spend it.
It is okay to read every single thing you can find on the internet, and it is okay to avoid all the articles like the plague.
It is okay to spend more on books from amazon than you spent on your first beater car.
It is okay to instead of books, buy a bunch of new make-up or get your hair done.
It is okay to just be the same mother you were before the diagnosis…
because you are.
You are not harming your child by waiting a few days or weeks to get your bearings – in fact you are helping him.
Because a momma that is running scared and just doing anything to feel like she is doing something is not what your child needs.
In time, you will surprise yourself at how capable and strong and educated and determined you will become for your babies. You will easily be able to understand all the words, acronyms, and language the doctors and therapists and other mommas speak as if it is their native tongue. You will.
And you will be really, really good at it.
But for now, you don’t have to be.
Your child is the same child and you are the same momma.
Nothing a doctor determines changes that.
My best advice, in the first days and weeks post diagnosis is simply this –
take as much time as you need.
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.