844-354-1212

Webinar alert! Strategies for Communicating with Special Education Families

Texas, On-DemandCalifornia, 2/29

Resources for an Autistic Child: Find What’s Best for Your Child

Exceptional Lives supports families and offers tools, support, and resources to help your autistic child thrive at school and at home. Learn more.

Autistic child during therapy at home with his father learning and having fun.

By offering easy-to-follow information, advocacy and skill-building tools, and connections to other caregivers, Exceptional Lives provides families, caregivers, and professionals the support and compassion you need to see your autistic child thrive. Read on to learn more about the basics and the not-so-basics.

What Is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autism impacts how people think, process sensory information like sound and touch, move, communicate, and interact with people. Autism has nothing to do with how smart a person is. Autism just describes a way of being.

What Does It Mean if My Child is Autistic?

Diagnosing autism can be difficult because there is no blood test or medical test for autism. 

Autism can look very different in children than in adults and among people of different genders. 

Generally, a screening tool, cognitive testing, and information about a child’s developmental history and behavior are used to help healthcare professionals and family caregivers understand who a person is and what they need to thrive.  

Read what the CDC has to say about autism screening and diagnosis.

Parents may worry that their autistic child won’t be able to live an independent life. But autism does not determine this one way or the other. Many autistic adults live happy, independent adult lives.

Each autistic person is different. Some people need little or no support; others may need more. So it’s important to explore all accommodations and resources to help your autistic child thrive.

Search our Disability Services Finder for Louisiana (en español) or Massachusetts (en español) to find a developmental pediatrician or other f disability-related services in your area.

Step-By-Step Guides

Finding Resources for an Autistic Child
(and for your family too)

If your child is autistic, you may be struggling to understand the resources and systems that can support your child and your family. And, while there is a lot of information out there about autism, some of it is extremely negative and some of it is just untrue.

It can be hard to find the information you need. Here are our guidelines to help you find what your child and your family needs.

Before Diagnosis

If you think your child may be autistic, here’s what you can do:

  1. If your child is under 3, call their doctor or your local Early Intervention program and ask for a screening. Otherwise, contact your school district’s Special Education department.
  2. Learn about sensory processing, which can help you understand more and respond to your child’s needs.
  3. Learn about co-regulation and other strategies to help your child regulate their emotions

After Diagnosis

If you just learned your child is autistic, here are your next steps:

  1. Educate yourself about autism. We STRONGLY suggest starting with sources written by autistic adults, like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network or the Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network.
  2. Explore ways you can adjust your home environment to best fit your child’s needs.
  3. If your child is in school, ask for an IEP meeting (or an evaluation, if your child doesn’t have an IEP) so that you can add accommodations to support your child at school.

Is your child or your family struggling because your autistic child’s behavior or needs have changed? Here’s how to get back on track:

  1. Ask your child what’s changed for them! Sometimes children don’t know, or can’t tell you. But even in these cases, asking shows them you are paying attention and know they are struggling.
  2. Talk to your child’s teacher, therapist or doctor about your concerns. They might be able to help you and your child understand the problem and suggest some new ideas.
  3. Call for an IEP meeting (if your child has an IEP) to discuss new or different accommodations your child might need at school. Ask for suggestions of new activities and tools to help your child manage daily life at home.

Is your autistic child getting ready to finish high school? Here are steps to help them prepare for life after high school:

  1. Work with your child’s IEP team to create a transition plan to help your child get ready for a new job, college, or living environment. 
  2. Explore whether your child may qualify for SSI when they turn 18. If they already get SSI, make sure you know what you need to do so their benefits continue into adulthood.
  3. If your child will need support around decision-making as an adult, explore options of guardianship or appointing a conservator.

 

Terms to Know

Understanding the Language of Autism

The world of autism comes with a lot of new information, jargon, and acronyms. It can be hard to work your way through all of this and understand what it all means. If you are confused about terms and acronyms associated with autism, we’ve listed a few common terms to know.

Why do we say “autistic child” instead of “child with autism”?

Read our GlossaryLea nuestro Glosario
  1. Developmental Disability

    When a child or adult cannot do certain things that people their age typically do. It can be a physical or intellectual difference that limits someone’s ability to take care of themselves, starts when they are young, and will probably affect them throughout their life. Read about assessing a young child’s development or services for children with developmental disabilities.

  2. Neurodivergent

    A neurodivergent person is someone who does not think, behave or perceive the world in a typical way. This is not a disability in itself, but is often wrongly perceived that way. Neurodivergent people do not need to be “fixed”, but do need to be understood and accepted as they are.

  3. Neurotypical

    A neurotypical person is someone who thinks, behaves and perceives the world in a way that is typical in the general population. While this is how most people are, it’s not a “better” way to be, and we should not see it as a goal to strive for.

Support for Parents and Caregivers of Autistic Children

Know that you are not alone in this journey! By hearing from other parents and providers caring for children with disabilities you can learn from other’s experiences and thoughts. Learn how they navigate their own challenges in our webinars, podcasts, and blogs about Special Education.

Check out our webinars, podcasts, and blogs.

Do you think your child might be autistic?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

  • What is Sensory Processing? And can it help explain my child’s behavior?

    Sensory processing issues make it difficult for our brains to process and filter information that comes through our senses. So how do we support our children?

    Julie McIsaac

  • What are some activities for children who have difficulty accepting different foods or textures?

    Carrie Alvarado, PhD, OTR answers this question from Abby (thanks, Abby!), following ELI’s Kitchen Conversations, Summer Style webinar series where we talked about mixing Occupational Therapy into summer fun at home. Find the full webinar (30 minutes) with closed captions and transcript here: /webinars

    Exceptional Lives Community Member

  • Tools for managing anxiety in young children

    Many young children suffer from anxiety. In this short video, clinician John-Pierre LaFleur offers some simple tools for managing anxiety in young children.

    Exceptional Lives Community Member

  • 6 ways to be a fierce advocate for your child with disabilities

    Advocating for your child with a disability can be hard. Here are 6 practical tips to help you make sure they get what they need. Narrated by Christina Kozik; Written by Julie McKinney

    Christina Kozik

    Click to play Just Needs Podcast: Parenting children with disabilities episode 19 on Buzzsprout.
  • Am I doing enough?

    Cindy Harrison, M.Sc., Reg. CASLPO – Speech Language Pathologist answers this important question we ask as parents, “how do we know if we’re doing enough to help our children?” This question is a follow up from her presentation with ELI’s Kitchen Conversations, Summer Style webinar series where we talked about mixing Speech and Language Therapy…

    Exceptional Lives Community Member

Did you learn recently that your child is autistic?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

  • What is DIR Floortime? Is it right for my autistic child?

    Many families are drawn to Floortime because they want to understand why their Autistic child behaves a certain way. Here is my experience as a child therapist.

    Julie McIsaac

  • What do you mean, ‘Self Regulation is the new IQ’?

    Carrie Alvarado, PhD, OTR explains more about self-regulation following her presentation with ELI’s Kitchen Conversations, Summer Style webinar series where we talked about mixing Occupational Therapy into summer fun at home. Find the full webinar (30 minutes) with closed captions and transcript here: /webinars

    Exceptional Lives Community Member

  • I have an autistic child. What can I learn from autistic adults?

    If you had the chance to learn more about what it is like to walk in your child’s shoes, why not take it? As parents, we turn to other parents walking in our shoes because we have shared experiences. It helps. But when it comes to understanding the experience of our kids, let’s turn to…

    Julie McIsaac

  • Making Sense of a New Autism Diagnosis

    When my son was diagnosed, it took some time to make sense of his autism diagnosis. But here are the great things about it that surprised me

    Julie McIsaac

  • My child has a new disability diagnosis. Now what?

    When you learn your child has a disability, you may feel confused. Or relieved. Or scared. Or overwhelmed. All of the above? It all sounds about right. This is a big moment. But our children with disabilities are… our children. Let’s talk about how to get through the experience of getting a new diagnosis so…

    Marisa Howard-Karp, MS

  • “There’s no magic amount of knowledge”: A conversation with a neurodivergent mom raising an Autistic child

    “There’s no magic amount of knowledge.” Listen along as I have a conversation with a neurodivergent mom raising an Autistic son.Interview by Christina Kozik with Nell Curran, Ph. D.

    Christina Kozik

    Click to play Just Needs Podcast: Parenting children with disabilities episode 43 on Buzzsprout.

Are you struggling to meet your autistic child’s needs?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

Is your autistic child getting ready to finish high school?

Here are some resources to help you out! 

Families & Stories

Families and Stories: Conversations with parents and their autistic kids

In these short videos, parents of young children share what has worked for them, what they’ve learned, and what advice they would give to other families.

Mother holding her smiling son and kissing him on the cheek.

Neda & Mason

Some parents suspect their child might be autistic at an early age, especially if they know what to look for. As a neonatal nurse, Neda knew the warning signs when it came to her son Mason’s developmental milestones and knew right away that something was different.
Watch the video
Mother (white woman) and son (white child) standing side by side smiling

Tanja & Andy

Transitioning into adulthood can be intimidating for any family. Adding a disability to the mix can make things even more daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Tanja made sure she prepared her autistic son, Andy, for life on his own after college.
Watch the video

Johnny & Jonathan

Transitioning into adulthood can be a daunting experience, especially for those with disabilities. Jonathan’s parents took advantage of his father’s role at a local community college and enrolled their son as a part-time student to continue their journey to prepare him for life after high school.
Watch the video
Black mother smiling with her daughter in front of greenery

Miranda and Magnolia

Meet Miranda Georgetown Riley, founder of the Magnolia Rose Foundation and mother of Magnolia Rose Riley. At 18 months old, Magnolia was diagnosed with autism and while she did not exhibit all of the typical signs of autism, her mom knew that something was different because she was non-speaking. After getting a diagnosis, Miranda immediately knew she needed to do all that she could to get her daughter early intervention and began her quest to get help.
Watch the video
Shubha, a person of color smiling with their son, whose face is blurred for privacy reasons.

Shubha & A

Shubha Balabaer is a Canadian in Brooklyn. They care for their autistic child while challenging societal gaps and advocating for inclusion.
Watch the video
Maurice, a Black man sitting in the car smiling with Maurice Jr.., his Black son

Maurice & Maurice Jr.

Maurice Jr. is the first of 3 children and only son of his father Maurice Rush. After Little Rece’s diagnosis as autistic, his father learned how to become a strong advocate for his non-speaking son.
Watch the video

Frequently Asked Questions about Autism

Discovering your child is autistic can be confusing, and many parents have a lot of questions. Here's answers to some of the common ones parents ask. 

Need more help? Click the button below to chat with an Exceptional Lives expert.

Contact us

Screening tools are instruments used by healthcare professionals to examine developmental challenges within children to help diagnose autism. One of the most frequently used tools is called Ages and Stages. Learn more about how screening tools are used.

Traveling to new places with new sounds and environments can be extremely overwhelming to children with sensory processing disorders. Providing your child a clear route with lots of warning about upcoming changes can help ease the anxiety about travel. Practicing co-regulation with your child can help your child avoid meltdowns or make them easier when they do happen.

It’s important to help your child feel comfortable with the foods and textures they consume. Help them become comfortable with textures by allowing them to feel the food in their hands before eating. To learn more about this, watch our video discussing ways to help your child get comfortable with food textures.

Autism, sometimes called autism spectrum disorder or ASD, is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autism impacts how people think, process sensory information like sound and touch, move, communicate, and interact with people. Autism has nothing to do with how smart a person is. Autism just describes a way of being.

According to the CDC, 1 in 44 8-year-old children in the US are diagnosed autistic. These numbers have grown a lot over the years but it’s not because autism is more common.

One reason for this is broader diagnostic criteria, which means that more people fit the definition. Another reason is that, as we start to understand more about autism, we are screening more children who might not have been diagnosed even 5 or 10 years ago. This is good news, because early diagnosis and recognition can help children (and families) get the support they need to thrive.

Autism is thought to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There’s a lot we don’t know yet about this. We do know that parents do not “cause” autism. Autism is one of many “normal” ways of being, and accepting that – instead of worrying about the “cause” – is a great starting point for being the parent your child most needs. Here’s a starting point if you’re struggling.

Boys are 4 times more likely than girls to be identified as autistic. This may have something to do with genetics. Some of it may be because girls are less likely to fit with our image of what an autistic child “looks like,” and because girls are often better at masking.

No. Studies have shown there is no link between vaccinations and autism. Vaccines are an important public health tool for preventing disease. Vaccines do not cause autism.

Autism is a way of being. It is not a disease that needs to be “fixed” or “cured.” Instead, you can support your child by adapting their environment to reduce the sensory or social input that can make them feel overwhelmed.

When you understand how your child sees and experiences the world, you can help ease their stress and discomfort and better manage challenging behavior like meltdowns.

An autism diagnosis does not determine this one way or another. Your autistic child has the same set of possibilities in front of them for their lives, families, and careers as any other child. Here are some tips to support teens with disabilities in preparing for independent living.

Each autistic person is unique, of course. But some common traits include:

  • Difficulty reading the facial expressions of neurotypical people. (This goes both ways – Neurotypical people often have trouble reading facial expressions of autistic people too! It’s called the Double Empathy Problem – here’s a quick cartoon explanation).
  • Repetitive physical behaviors (sometimes called “stimming”)
  • Extra sensitivity to noise, light, or the texture of clothing or food
  • A need for a structured routine

Each autistic person – just like anyone else – will have their own strengths and challenges and may need different kinds of accommodations or support.

Many autistic self-advocates prefer “autistic person” because autism is so fundamental to who a person is. Some providers and parents prefer “person with autism” because they feel that this recognizes a person first, not a condition. 

At Exceptional Lives, we are committed to following the lead of autistic adult self-advocates.

Many autistic people experience one or more of these problems:

  • ADHD: Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Asthma
  • Gastrointestinal disorders like reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and celiac disease
  • Ear infections
  • Eczema or skin allergies
  • Food allergies
  • Mental health issues
  • Seizures
  • Severe headaches
  • Sleep disorders

This does not mean these problems are signs of autism, or that your autistic child will develop all of these problems. But these are all things to watch for. Talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned.

Louisiana Medicaid Waivers are state benefits that help pay for services to support people with disabilities. They are meant to help people get enough support to live at home. To learn more and apply, contact your region’s Human Services District Office or Authority. The Waivers and other services are run by the Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (OCDD).

In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Autism Insurance Law (ARICA) requires health insurance plans to cover medically necessary services for autistic persons.

Services covered through ARICA include pharmacy care, psychiatric care, therapies like Occupational Therapy, social skills groups, and more. You can use this tool to see if ARICA covers your insurance plan.