Finding out that your child has special needs can be difficult. A parent of one of the children in our full time program shared with us his story of finding out that his daughter is on the autism spectrum.

By Liam, ELG Parent

When my daughter was young she was indistinguishable from her peers, but around 18 months she started to exhibit unusual behaviors. At her two year checkup we were told she hadn’t met a lot of communication milestones. Later we got the diagnosis that she’s on the autistic spectrum.

It was a horrible thing. You instantly know that there’s going to be a big change coming to your relationship with your child and your partner. I was in Australia without my wife and when we got the diagnosis; I went home and cried with my mother.

Close-up Portrait of Human Eye

After that there was a huge amount of guilt. Autism is still so poorly understood that you start to wonder about causes. When she received her immunizations there was a problem with the government not allowing imported vaccines. While I know this is a little irrational, you can’t help but feel somewhat responsible. You want something to blame. You’d do anything to help your child, so reading anecdotes about gluten free diets or organic foods makes you consider what you could do, or have done. You start to question if you could have spent more time with your child. It’s hard, and the additional stress makes thinking through everything that much more difficult.

It’s also hard for others to understand that they can be really unhelpful in this situation, and that, because you’re so stressed, you can be easily annoyed. I don’t like telling people my daughter’s autistic; not just because of the label but also because of the inevitable story about an uncle’s friend’s daughter who never spoke until one day suddenly started talking about a dog. I know they’re just trying to make you feel better, but it can be really challenging.

Another way that the relationship with your child changes is that it becomes harder to just spend time enjoying their company. You’re always considering how any interaction might help or hinder their development. It can become difficult to just relax. There’s a constant tension between wanting to shelter your child and pushing them out of their comfort zone so that they have to communicate; it’s really tough. My wife and I have a host of activities we do with her and sometimes I structure the whole day around them, and then when she doesn’t want to participate I’m caught between wanting to push her and wanting to just enjoy ourselves. It constantly nags at me.

I think once my wife had come round we knew that we needed some intervention. Our first reaction was to look at the international schools that have some level of integrated speech therapy. However, we saw the student/teacher ratio and wanted something better. There was a mental barrier to be overcome with entering a “special” center like ELG, but now my child is starting to deal with her communication problems and there may be a future in which she can return to mainstream education.