Hearing that your child may have autism can be a harsh wake-up call, but there is no reason to panic. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to figure out what may be going on, and what you can do about it. Autism can cause learning and behavioral challenges. A diagnosis may answer many questions you have had about your child.
Listen to Your Teacher’s Concerns
If your teacher takes the time to mention that she feels your son may have autism, you do want to take the matter seriously. Teachers are not in the habit of making a diagnosis and generally do not want to create conflict. You can be sure that if the teacher makes this comment, she is basing it on something she has observed.
While you should take your teacher’s concerns seriously, you should not let it be the final answer. Teachers have experience working with a wide range of students of all ability levels and are generally good at recognizing when a child is struggling. They will also recognize when the issue is simply a matter of a child marching to his beat and when there are legitimate issues that need to be addressed.
However, that does not change the fact that your son’s teacher is not trained to make a diagnosis of autism. If she presented her concern as a fact, you should consider that a red flag, as it oversteps her area of expertise. However, if she mentioned it as a concern and recommended that you follow up with a professional, she is well within her rights as an experienced educator.
Get an Official Diagnosis
Get in touch with your son’s pediatrician for a referral to a specialist. You may be tempted to use your pediatrician for a diagnosis. However, if they have missed the warning signs so far, this may not be an area they are familiar with. Working with a child psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in these issues allows you to get a full work-up and evaluation. This is important because even if your child does not have autism, something is going on that needs to be addressed.
Ask for an IEP
Once you have an official diagnosis, approach the school to have an individualized education program set up. An IEP allows your child’s time in the classroom to be customized in a way that will best meet his needs. He may be able to stay in his existing classroom for some or all of the day. He may be assigned an aide to help him with certain tasks, or he may receive special accommodations during certain types of classwork and testing. It is important to have an IEP set up for your child to protect his right to a fair and equal education. The IEP is reviewed and modified each year.
Work for Accommodations
There is often a disconnect in the public school between what goes on in the IEP meeting and what happens in the classroom. As a parent, be sure that you understand exactly what your child is entitled to and make sure that it is provided. If your child’s time in his classroom was stressful before his diagnosis, his teacher might have misgivings about having him remain as part of the class. Advocate for your child and keep the lines of communication open. Check-in frequently to gauge how his progress is and ensure that his accommodations are being provided. You should look to your child’s teacher as a teammate and not an adversary.
Seek Support for You and Your Child
A late diagnosis of autism, which is what happens if your son’s teacher is the one who initiates the diagnosis, can answer a lot of questions, but can also create some stress. You may feel guilty about missing the signs yourself and possibly making things harder on your child. He may feel left behind by peers who have an easier time socializing and forming friendships than he does.
Ask your child’s healthcare provider for a recommendation of a local support group. The opportunity to talk with others experiencing the same things as you can be healing. Your son may appreciate the opportunity to socialize with others who face similar obstacles. If you find that either you or your son is struggling with the diagnosis, therapy may provide an outlet to work through these emotions.