On the 25th March 2019, it was reported on the news that a British Airways flight scheduled to arrive in Düsseldoff, Germany from London’s City Airport mistakenly landed in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The two destinations are more than 800km apart and as a result of this error, the passengers arrived at their initial destination after over three and half hours behind schedule. Ridiculous, right?!
This story initially made me laugh. How on earth did the flight crew not know they were heading the wrong way? How did the passengers not realise they were being taken to the wrong destination? Surely, there would have been an announcement before take off to let them know where they were going and how long it would take to arrive there before the plane departed London City Airport? This sounds like something you will read as an April Fool’s day joke.
But this later made me think what would have happened if the passengers were told that they had to stay in Edinburgh for a very, very long time, even though they weren’t prepared to stay there, what would have been their reaction?
This is how most parents feel when they receive the diagnosis that their child is Autistic. Although, you are prepared for the journey ahead as a parent, you are definitely not ready for the journey at a destination different from the one you have packed your suitcase for. What do you do now you are in this strange and unknown land with no maps to guide you or Siri to tell you what next to do? How will you cope in this Autism land?
I call it Autism land because the autistic child is already in that land which is different from ours, we as parents or carers need to find out ways to cope as well as strategies to help the child to be the best he/she can be.
Firstly, I suggest you let the reality sink in and disembark from the plane. This diagnosis has been made and you’re now in Autism land, do not sit back and look down in despair, believe me when I say it will take alot of your energy and you will have little or none left to face each day. Some people take a longer time than others to get off the plane after the diagnosis and that is okay because people react differently to situations, but please realise the plane has landed and it won’t be taking off anytime soon.
Secondly, get help. If you found yourself in a strange land, you would ask for directions or find a map to know where you are and where you need to go next. Similarly, surround yourself with people who are experiencing the same situation as you. Join a support group, go to information classes about Autism, ask your doctor, local health nurse or local Autism organisation how you can get help.
Allow family or close friends support you through this journey. The important thing is that you do not go through this alone, because there is help out there, but you have to be ready to look for it and accept it when you do get it.
Also, see the child’s potential (I say the child’s potential without undermining the fact that Autistic children grow to become teenagers and then adults, just writing from the point of view that a child has been diagnosed). Often times, parents and carers tend to focus so much on the child’s difficulties and symptoms that the potential is not acknowledged. Indeed, there are challenges and difficulties faced by the child and also by you as a parent caring for your child, but what about what he/she can do?. This could be a good starting point for the support and development needs.
Make a list of his/her strengths and see that it is not all bad news. I am not saying that you no longer acknowledge the difficulties or weaknesses either, but when you encourage and praise your child for something they are good at, they get better at that and that’s good for the child’s self esteem to know that they are good at something, while you use strategies to support and assist the child to improve on their areas of weakness (I will write about some strategies for dealing with Autism soon).
Lastly, do not get bugged down by the negative press about Autism because most books or features about autism in the media (television, radio or newspaper) contain alot of negatives and difficulties faced by autistic people and very rarely is the focus on what most of them have done that in some cases, are extraordinary, so balance your views.
Each and every parent or carer should continue to focus on each child and their individual areas of difficulties, strengths and growth. Every Autistic person is different from the other.
What I like about the British Airways flight is that the passengers got to their destination, although they were late, they still got there. That to me, is about believing that it may take time to get to the point where you no longer see the diagnosis as a never ending ordeal but it does get better and you will eventually get to the point where you feel you have reached your scheduled destination when you see how well the child comes on (with the right interventions) from the day the diagnosis was given.
There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel in Autism land.