Life After an Autism Diagnosis

Stagliano is now managing editor for Age of Autism, a blog that provides information on the latest news and debates regarding autism.

"It makes my load easier to bear when I know I'm helping others in some way, shape or form," said Stagliano.

Markey said advocacy is a healthy coping method for families dealing with disabilities.

"Every parent chooses to advocate differently but the goal is to act," said Markey. "Too many families transition into depression after a diagnosis."

For Better or Worse

Unfortunately, such a transition is not hard to imagine for some families that face uncommon challenges in dealing with the condition.

Jennifer Wood remembers how difficult it was for her son Jason to receive a formal autism diagnosis nearly a decade ago. Wood says she grew frustrated after multiple doctor visits. Even after Jason's diagnosis at age 2, she said she did not fully understand what treatment options were best for Jason.

That's when Wood, a computer engineer living in Michigan at the time, said she toyed with the idea of going to medical school. When Jason began to have violent tantrums, she sealed her decision to switch careers. Wood attended the University of Hawaii medical school to become a child psychiatrist.

"There has to be honesty and openness on how overwhelming this is and how it's not what families have signed up for," said Markey. "It's creating a balance between acknowledging fear and frustration and not moping in it so you're able to carry on."

"I'm glad I'm doing this, despite the hardship of raising three children," said Wood. "Even now as a student I've had contact with [autistic] children and I feel I've already made a difference."

Jason's diagnosis also signaled the beginning of the end of Wood's marriage, she said. Her acceptance to medical school in Hawaii also contributed to her divorce. Wood is not alone. The National Autism Association, which is conducting a national divorce survey of autism families, estimates an 80 percent divorce rate among families with autistic children.

According to Markey, acceptance of an autism diagnosis is one of the most difficult stages for a parent's transition to the unexpected lifestyle.

"Sometimes parents exaggerate the progress their child can achieve," said Markey. "The disappointment is in realizing that the child often will not achieve a fully comprehensive developmental level."

Markey said an autistic child's lack of social interaction and emotion toward a parent may also contribute to the frustration.

"For a parent, an autistic child is not naturally gratifying -- the amount of energy they have to put in for an outcome from the child is doubled," said Markey.

The Child Left Behind

When Jason was 6 years old, he slammed his older sister Susannah's head against the wall, leaving her unconscious for several days, said Wood. Susannah spent a year in speech and physical therapy.

"I used to feel guilty when I watched her struggle to walk and talk and use the toilet again," said Wood. "Susannah still feels resentment toward Jason from that."

Because some autistic children require constant attention, Markey said, children without autism may feel threatened by their autistic sibling and neglected by their parents.

In school, more attention is given to Jason than to her daughters, said Wood. Her daughters Corina, 8, and Susannah, 12, are referred to as "Jason's sisters" by other students, not by their own names.

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