As soon as your child was diagnosed with autism, you end up dealing with a flood of emotions and that will mostly consist of grief and sadness. You are going to grieve and be devastated by the fact that your dream had been ripped to shreds upon the diagnosis. Your child has autism which means there is a better chance than not that he or she will be dependent for life on some level, or possibly completely dependent.
And at the same time, a part of you will be holding onto hope that your child will be magically cured by all of the therapy for years to come – even though this means you will have to take out mortgages and loans to fund the therapy since the resources are scant for parents. So perhaps a part of you is hoping that the original dream you had for your child will be restored. And while you are going through these emotions you have a flood of friends who are well-meaning of course, sending you poems such as Welcome To Holland. This is the last thing you want to see.
And at the same time, you will find messages from your friends that consist of how strong you are and how amazing you are, and even happy stories of kids with autism being successful. You don’t want to deal with any of this because the sadness you are feeling is so raw. And even though you cannot compare having a child with special needs to actually physically losing a child, the parent is grieving. The child is still alive, but the dream is not, or the major parts of the dream that the parents had for the child is gone.
And all you can do is hold onto hope that the therapy will allow your child to succeed and live the dreams you had envisioned. However, as the years progress and as the progress either significantly slows down, stagnates, or stops and the child regresses, then dream becomes even more distant so that hope begins to slip away.
That child that you had dreamed of having that would one day have friends, go on dates, graduate from high school, college, land into a successful career, and eventually going off to getting married and bringing you some grandkids no longer exists. That is a bitter pill to swallow which means you are going to have to find a way to accept that your child will be either in special ed classes throughout school and will end up getting a sheltered job if your child is lucky. And then you will be dealing with waitlists when it comes to group homes or else the child will be in your care for good. In other words, either way, that dream is gone.
How will you move onto acceptance? Sometimes you really can’t because you will be reminded over and over again what you had lost by seeing your child’s typical peers developing the way you had envisioned your child to be. Even if you move into a temporary state of ‘acceptance’ eventually the sadness and grief will come back. Because the next thing you will know, your child is 15 and is still needing help with showering and uses immature language (and many don’t use any at all and are not even toilet trained because they are not capable of learning).
A special needs parent is a grieving parent, and no amount of Welcome To Holland letters will erase the grief and magically place them into a state of acceptance. They may potentially be grieving for life unless their child had miraculous breakthroughs and accomplished more than they had originally imagined.