Stop learning about autism

Lisa Jo Rudy

One of the pieces of advice most often given to parents new to autism is "learn all you can about autism."

This is bad advice. Don't follow it. It will drive you mad, it will drive your partner and your friends away, and it will not help your child with autism.

How can I say such a thing? After all, isn't it best to know all you can about a disorder that will affect your child for a lifetime?

While getting a basic grounding in autism spectrum disorders is, of course, a good idea, there is only so much you can actually KNOW. Most of the actual information available about autism can be found on just a few well-established and carefully reviewed websites such as those run by the CDC, NIMH, and the Autism Society. You can also get solid information about specific therapies such as ABA, Floortime, RDI, speech therapy, and occupational therapy on sites like this one or on the sites run by those organizations.

But the reality is that, once you've read that material, you're done. There really are no hidden secrets that you'll uncover by digging deeper. Autism remains a somewhat mysterious disorder which is only now being investigated with real scientific rigor -- and the results of the science remain quite vague. Even today, the causes of autism are understood for only about 20% of people on the spectrum; that means that most people with autism may never know the cause. Only a few therapies that have been fully researched -- and there is disagreement about the validity of that research.

As a result, when you start digging deeper online or in the library, you'll wind up spending the rest of your time learning about out-in-left-field opinions, poorly researched "findings," strange and untested "treatments," and unsupported suggestions that may create guilt, anxiety, or anger where it is absolutely unnecessary.

And what about support groups? Autism support groups can be a godsend. They offer parents a place to share their worries, learn about local resources, and get connected to local and regional services. They're a great place to learn about the ins and outs of agencies, treatment centers, and school districts.

But support group members can turn toxic quickly when they decide to promote their favorite theories, schools, therapists, or therapies -- and won't let go until you agree with them. Why are you feeding your child THAT food? Don't you know it's poison to their systems? Why are you providing THAT therapy? Don't you know it's useless? If you're a parent who's attended more than a few support meetings (or conferences), chances are you've confronted at least one autism zealot.

How can you avoid overwhelming yourself with useless or harmful information? How can you stay centered and sane, and avoid burnout?

The answer is simple.

From my heart, from my years of experience as an autism mom and a member of the larger autism community, I offer you these alternative suggestions:

Put down the autism memoir.

Close Dr. X's blog about alternative treatments.

Don't read that Google alert with the latest and greatest autism headlines.

Cancel your plans to attend the third autism parents' support meeting this month.

Carefully review your child's therapy schedule with an eye to ensuring that he has enough down time to recover and relax between sessions.

Take a walk.


You've covered all the most important basics, and you've provided your child with what he or she really needs. And that's enough.

Courtesy of About

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