Do you know why flight attendants regularly remind parents to don their own oxygen masks first in the event of an emergency, before assisting children? Because it’s counterintuitive. It goes against the parents’ instinctive response, which is to help their child first.

But, if parents fail to put on their oxygen masks, they put both themselves and their children at risk. This reality holds true both in the air and on the ground: parents need to take care of themselves in order to provide safe, effective childcare.

At FirstPath Autism, we know that the first post-diagnosis days are difficult, and finding autism support for parents can be tricky. We’re familiar with the questions that run through every parent’s mind: How did this happen? What do we do next? Am I doing all that I can for my child? And what about the rest of our family? Where will we find the time?

While every individual with autism is different, we know this to be true: the investment you make in your own support during this time will pay dividends for years to come.

Wondering where to start? In this post, we’ll outline several key ways for you to receive support in your parenting journey.

Find a Support Group

Though autism prevalence continues to climb, a diagnosis can trigger feelings of isolation. As such, connecting with fellow parents and receiving support is particularly essential in the post-diagnosis period.

When you and your family are figuring out how to navigate the new world of autism spectrum disorder, it helps to connect with people who empathize. When you’re feeling alienated from friends and family, you can turn to a support group to find common ground, vent, or just get much-needed information.

We know you may be asking, ‘Do I need to attend an in-person group when so much information is available online?’ While it’s true the internet makes it possible to do extensive autism research from the comfort of your home, if you can get out we think you should give it a try! There is no substitute for interacting with fellow parents.

Plus, families in your area have valuable experience with government programs, school systems, non-profits, and more. Local parents have a wealth of information about how to advocate for your child in your specific town or city. It’s much more efficient to ask questions of fellow parents than to try and figure everything out alone.

Approach support group interactions with an attitude of discernment, but don’t be afraid to query families about their experiences in the post-diagnosis period and beyond. Most likely, they will be eager to pass along the knowledge and insights that they’ve gained along the way.

What’s the best way to find a group that meets in your area? Check the state-by-state Resource Guide provided by Autism Speaks, and The Autism Society of America’s Autism Source Online Directory. You can also Google “autism parent support in (your geographic region)” and check and other social networks as well.

How can you tell if you’ve found a “good” group? Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Autism Blog writer Katrina Davis, BA, lists desired group qualities such as a small size, an equal distribution of authority, and the creation of a safe space.

Explore Free Online Resources

If you have internet access, you have a plethora of free autism resources at your fingertips. Here are just a few well-known, trusted websites to get you started:

  • The 5 autism resources listed in our recent blog post are free, concise, and readily accessible. This is a great place to start.
  • Autism Speaks offers free online Family Support Tool Kits, with packets designed specifically for parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends. The Parent Support Tool Kit discusses stressors specific to mothers, fathers, and single parents, and it includes a step-by-step guide to building a strong support network for your family. The Tool Kit also addresses frequently asked questions regarding respite services, inclusive faith communities, financial assistance, and more.
  • In addition, Psychology Today blogger Dr. Darren Sush is a licensed clinical psychologist and behavior analyst. His ongoing “All The Pieces”column offers resources and support for parents.

Learn to Separate Fact from Fiction

It’s sad but true: some autism service providers make unsubstantiated claims and false promises. As a parent, it’s your job to discern what’s best for your child, and that includes deciding which protocols are worth your family’s time.

As Caroline McGraw notes in her Lowcountry Autism Consortium blog post, “How to Sift Through Autism Therapy Options”, “Even in this time of increasing awareness [and] research, and therapeutic possibilities, autism remains a territory of tremendous unknowns …. However, there are some very good options, especially when an early diagnosis is made. Most of these options center around Applied Behavior Analysis.”

ABA is a safe, effective intervention for behavior modification. As a 2007 study published in Pediatrics (the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) states,

“The effectiveness of ABA-based intervention in ASDs has been well documented through 5 decades of research … and [in] controlled studies …. Children who receive early intensive behavioral treatment have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic performance, and adaptive behavior as well as some measures of social behavior, and their outcomes have been significantly better than those of children in control groups.”

In short, ABA is a proven method for supporting the social and behavioral development of individuals with autism.

Furthermore, the Pediatrics paper also emphasizes the importance of parent and family support. Its authors note that, “Parents and siblings of children with ASDs experience more stress and depression than those of children who are typically developing or even those who have other disabilities. Supporting the family and ensuring its emotional and physical health is an extremely important aspect of overall management of ASDs.”

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out as a parent, plug into a support system. When you address your own concerns, you’re empowered to advocate for your child, too.

Let FirstPath Be Your Partner in Success

The choice to seek support for yourself is one of the most powerful decisions you can make as an autism parent. When you seek out relationships and resources that empower you, you give your entire family a boost. We created the FirstPath program to bridge the gap between effective ABA services and individuals with autism, and our training videos allow you to educate yourself as you teach your child.