10 Things You Need to Know After Your Child is Diagnosed with Autism

Leading autism expert Dr. Catherine Lord offers advice for families of autistic children

Mar 18, 2015


In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and a national authority on autism spectrum disorders (ASD), offers families guidance and tips for coping with a child’s diagnosis.

  • Have hope. Every day we learn more about how to help people with ASD. Life gets better.
  • Remember that your child is an individual. Your child is first and foremost his or her own unique person, then a child, then a child with strengths and difficulties, and only then a child with ASD.
  • Build a strong support system. Find people you can trust to support you as an individual, and then to support you as a parent of a child with autism. Acknowledge that this isn’t easy and give yourself credit for what you do.
  • Find credible sources and resources in your community. You will hear many contradictory and unfounded pieces of information. Stand up for what you think are the needs of your child. Find professionals whom you trust and resources in which you have faith. Don’t be afraid to ask. Other parents can be important sources of information, but every child with ASD is different.
  • Enjoy each other. Do things every day that you and your child can enjoy together. While opportunities for learning are important, shared enjoyment is even more important in a family.
  • Set goals. Set small, reasonable goals for your child and figure out how to accomplish these goals. Have ideas for next steps that aren’t miles down the road.
  • Make time for your partner. Set aside some time, even just a few minutes, to focus on each other and not the child. Listen to each other's needs and perspectives as you consider what you will do for your child.
  • Be involved. Children with ASD who have families that devote time to learning and playing with them show more improvements than families who are less involved.
  • Have reasonable expectations for your child's behavior. Do not let your child do things that you would not let another child of the same age do, such as biting people or climbing on counters. Do not punish, but interrupt quickly, be firm and redirect, offering a distraction.
  • Build on your child and your family’s strengths. Help your child find things she or he loves and use that passion to build experience and/or skills. If your family is passionate about something like music, sports or travel, find a niche for your child in that interest.

About Dr. Catherine Lord

Dr. Catherine Lord is the director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, a joint center with Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University Medical Center. She is a clinical psychologist who co-developed some of the key diagnostic tools to help clinicians recognize autism in individuals of varying ages. Dr. Lord is renowned for her research in the field, especially longitudinal studies of children with autism that observe the progression of their social development and communication skills. The focus of her research is often to find more effective ways to treat patients.

Dr. Lord has been honored repeatedly for her work and was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine. She has received the American Psychological Association award for Lifetime Achievement in Applications of Research, the Patricia Buehler Legacy Award for Clinical Innovation from the American College of Occupational Therapy; the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Clinical Psychology from the Society of Clinical Psychology; and the Asperger/ Kanner Medal from the Free University of Berlin. She chaired the Committee on Effectiveness of Early Intervention in Autism for the National Research Council and was on the DSM-5 Neurodevelopmental Disorders Committee.

Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

The Center for Autism and the Developing Brain is a comprehensive, state-of-the-art institute dedicated to addressing the pressing clinical needs of individuals living with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disorders of the brain, across their lifespan. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, along with its affiliated medical schools, Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, has collaborated with New York Collaborates for Autism (www.nyc4a.org) to establish the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. Led by Dr. Catherine Lord and located on the Hospital's 214-acre campus in White Plains, the center is a resource for community-based providers and families that opened in 2013. For more information, visit http://nyp.org/services/center-autism-developing-brain.html.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive hospitals and a leading provider of inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine. With some 2,600 beds and more than 6,500 affiliated physicians and 20,000 employees, NewYork-Presbyterian had more than 2 million visits in 2013, including close to 15,000 infant deliveries and more than 310,000 emergency department visits. NewYork-Presbyterian comprises six campuses: NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/Westchester Division and NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital. The hospital is also closely affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area, according to U.S. News & World Report, and consistently named to the magazine’s Honor Roll of best hospitals in the nation. Affiliated with two world-renowned medical schools, Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, NewYork-Presbyterian is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service.

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