Hudson Valley Parent

HVP - March 2014

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30 Hudson Valley Parent n March 2014 Letting go, saying no How to handle the stress and anxiety of a child with autism By LAURA LICATA SULLIVAN I t's hard to believe that my oldest son turned 15 this past November. I remember when I went into labor on Thanksgiving Day after eat- ing a lot of turkey. My son was born chubby and healthy, a holiday gift to my husband and myself. Two years later, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. My son was already receiving special education service through Early Intervention in our home district of Goshen, so I already had my suspi- cions. Nevertheless, my world came crashing down — and the vast realm of behavioral therapy opened up. My head was spinning and my husband was in a state of denial. We both fell into a deep depression and started to fight — a LOT. He spent many hours at work and I became resentful that he didn't have to be at home, dealing with my son's diaper changes, tantrums, and the constant rotation of therapists. I felt like I was drowning. Well-meaning family and friends offered countless tidbits of advice, but I still felt isolated and alone. And my son was not improving. This way of life slowly took a toll on every- thing that meant the most to us — our health, our joy, our wellbeing. Raising a child with autism is one of the hardest things a parent will ever have to do. According to the National Survey of Children's Health, parents of chil- dren with autism experience great- er stress than parents of children with other learning disabilities. In a study in the Journal of Intellectu- Raising a child with autism is one of the hardest things a parent will ever have to do. al Disability Research, mothers of children with autism were found to experience more psychological dis- tress than mothers of children with Down's Syndrome. As there are currently no treat- ments for autism, the responsibility of living with the developmental and behavioral problems of the autistic child falls primarily on the family. We also need specific coping strat- egies to help us navigate our crazy world. Here are some strategies I have researched over the years and tried to implement: Find support Over the years, I would have lost my mind if it weren't for the support of other parents in Orange County living the same life as my husband and myself. I am grateful to folks like Renee Smith, a special educa- tion teacher who runs programs for families living with autism. "When parents are starting the evaluation process and getting their children diagnosed, it's such a terri- fying and overwhelming process for them," says Smith. "They don't know what to expect and especially what this will all mean for their child's future." Smith notes that mothers espe- cially become consumed with the disorder. (Continued on Page 32) Laura Licata Sullivan and her autistic son, Jack, get cozy with a dolphin. "This was one of our favorite days together," she says.

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