Illustration by Garcia Lam
Move Forward Quickly
With a diagnosis comes denial, anger, even despair. But you are wasting time if you don’t move swiftly through the grieving stages toward acceptance. The earlier the therapeutic intervention—before your child’s brain circuitry becomes more resistant to rewiring—the better. Find a parents’ group and gather names of therapists. Talk About Curing Autism is a good place to start.
Go Beyond the Initial Diagnosis
A psychiatrist might have correctly identified your child as autistic, but for a fuller picture, invest in a comprehensive test (it’s costly) administered by a neuropsychologist or a hospital-run assessment clinic. UCLA’s Autism Evaluation Clinic (310-794-4008) has a long track record, while the Boone Fetter Clinic at Childrens Hospital (323-361-6102) arranges preapproval with insurance companies and accepts Medi-Cal.
You Have Rights. Know Them
Under California law, state-contracted regional centers (dds.ca.gov) must offer behavioral therapies, social skills classes, and other services to children with autism. Make an appointment. Your school district similarly must outline an individualized education program, or IEP, for your child. If the district determines that it cannot provide an adequate education, it must pay for a nonpublic school that can.
Don’t Take No for an Answer
With all the city and state budget cuts, many parents report being turned down for vital services. That means you may have to make things unpleasant for your school or regional center bureaucracy to get what your child is entitled to. If you can’t afford a lawyer—you’ll probably need one—contact an agency such as the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which represents qualified families free of charge.
Remember to Have Some Fun
Your expectations may have changed, but don’t let that hold you back from enjoying time with your kid. Two exceptional places that cater to children with autism are Danny’s Farm in Altadena (626-797-FARM), whose after-school program includes playtime with animals, and Leaps n Boundz in West L.A. (310-821-0963), which offers gymnastics, swimming lessons, cooking classes, and family camping trips.