Life After an Autism Diagnosis

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.

And at home, Wood struggles to keep a fair family dynamic. Her daughters feel there is a double standard with the way she responds to Jason's behavior and the way she disciplines her daughters, she said.

"[My daughters] don't see Jason's behavior as a disability -- they see it as a personality," said Wood. "They don't understand why he is not punished for actions the girls would normally be punished for."

Markey recommended that families step outside of the parent-child relationship and share with their non-autistic child stories and frustrations.

"So many times we look for support groups, but the key is creating a support group structure within a family," said Markey. "If there is open communication, a sibling will not be embarrassed by autism or overshadowed by autism."

Wendy Stone, director of the Kennedy Center Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, agreed. Although many treatment programs focus primarily on the development of the child with autism, Stone said inclusion of the parent into any treatment also important.

"The MO has been to treat the child only, but when you leave the parent out of the equation then it's not introducing all aspects in treatment," said Stone.

Moving Forward

With financial and educational services at times struggling to meet the growing number of autism diagnoses, more families are learning to adjust with or without outside support. Stories similar to those of Wood, Stagliano and Ursitti often reveal parents having to comfort their autistic child during tantrums while the family may experience their own physical, emotional and financial meltdowns.

According to Markey, oftentimes families become so consumed in what others can do for their child that they may forget that a loving and stable family life is also critical to a child with autism.

"Every family has to figure it out their own way what feels right," said Markey. "But overall they should be aware in a family that there's potential of isolation if there is no balance."

For Ursitti, who has still not heard Jack speak his first words, learning to adjust has meant learning to change her yardstick for success. It's no easy task; Ursitti said she sometimes finds it difficult to run errands with Jack during the day.

"It's horrible when you're already in an isolating situation and people who don't even know you will single you out as a bad parent because your child is 'out of control,'" said Ursitti. "Sometimes I think they don't get us."

But she said that even though it's hard at first, she has found that she is able to rise to the occasion.

Read/Watch the Entire Series: Autism in America

"Adjusting to autism is like strength training," Ursitti said. "At first you're really hurting but after a while you realize, 'Oh yeah, I can carry this.'"

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