A Parent’s Guide To Autism: Understanding & Helping Your Child

Millions of American families go through the challenges of having a child with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Yet the causes of, and treatments for, these neurological conditions are far from fully understood. Parents of a child on the autism spectrum can often feel as if they are going it alone.

Fortunately, there are enough sympathetic communities and informational resources on the Internet that this should never be the case. The facts, book recommendations, online resources and web communities listed below should help concerned parents whose child has just received an autism or Asperger’s diagnosis get started on the road to understanding what their child needs and how to provide it.

Quick Facts Book Materials Online Resources Online Communities Asperger’s Syndrome

Quick Facts

  • Autism is distinguishable by a triad of symptoms: impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, and restricted interests and repetitive behavior. (Wikipedia)
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. (AutismSpeaks.org)
  • Most parents of autistic children suspect that something is wrong by the time the child is 18 months old and seek help by the time the child is age 2. (Google Health)
  • Autism affects 1 in 170 children and 1 in 70 boys. (AutismSpeaks.org)
  • Since 2007, April 2 has been designated World Autism Awareness Day. (Wikipedia)
  • Asperger’s syndrome is a disorder on the autism spectrum that carries many of the traits of autism but with less impairment linguistically and cognitively. (Wikipedia

Book Materials

Online Resources

  • Autism Inspiration: This site offers not just inspiration but practical resources to teach and manage kids with autism. Work with children on their motor skills, writing skills or social games.
  • Autism Research Institute: This organization raises medical funding for autism research. It also has a lot of individual resources to read up on.
  • Autism Speaks: A major autism charity and fundraiser. It sponsors walks and corporate events to help in the fight against autism.
  • Autism Society of America: A large and wide-ranging autism organization. It organizes events, funds research, monitors news and lobbies for autism-related reform.
  • Autism Today: This is a deep well of educational resources about autism. You’ll need to become a member (membership is free) to access most of the content.
  • Autism Web: This is a useful list of links for all types of autism information. Check out the syllabus for Yale University’s course “Understanding Autism,” or download a 100 Day Kit for what to do in the first 100 days after your child receives an autism diagnosis.
  • Autistic Traits: A Plus for Many Careers: This article shows one of the common silver linings to autism: high intelligence and concentration abilities. Autistic children may thrive as scientists, computer animators or museum curators, among other careers.
  • Protecting the Child or Adult with Autism: This guide will tell you some common-sense things you can do to protect your loved one with autism out in the world, such as sewing an I.D. tag into their shirt collar.
  • Temple Grandin: The Wikipedia page for inspirational autistic animal rights and professor Temple Grandin. An HBO biopic on her life starring Claire Danes came out in February 2010.
  • They’re Autistic and They’re In Love: This moving Glamour article profiles an autistic couple in their twenties. He’s a weatherman and she is a barista at Starbucks.

Online Communities/Forums

  • AutismOne: One of the preeminent autism resources on the Web. It has a social community, blogs and even a radio network with autism-related webcasts.
  • Autism Blogger: This blog is focused around stories and shared experiences of autism. It encourages users to create an ID, sign up and join the discussion.
  • Autism Hangout: A thriving web community with many categories of discussion, such as education, relationships, allergies and foods.
  • The Aut Spot: This cutely named autism resource has a web community, an informational library and a calendar of upcoming events complete with photo albums.
  • BBB Autism: An online community linked around the MSN Network for those who have loved ones or family members with autism.
  • HealthBoards: The autism board on HealthBoards is very active, with questions and topics such as “How do I tell my child they have autism?” and “Three year old won’t sleep!!!”
  • IAN Project: IAN stands for Interactive Autism Network. The forum brings together autism sufferers with scientific researchers to create a dialogue that is not only cathartic but potentially valuable for researching a cure.
  • MD Junction: A casual, open message board for users to post brief or extended conversations about autism.
  • Train4Autism: This organization brings together athletes with autism fundraising events. Recent achievers include a climber who scaled Mt. Aconcaqua for autism, and a bodybuilder who completed the Ironman Triathlon under the site’s sponsorship.
  • WrongPlanet.net: This community is an important online resource for individuals with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, as well as their parents and friends. It has original content and interviews with autism-related celebrities such as Joey Travolta, producer of the film Normal People Scare Me.

Asperger’s Syndrome

  • Aspergers.com: This site is an all-purpose resource for information on Asperger’s. It has a discussion group and even a list of recommended clinicians.
  • Asperger Info: An international discussion group revolving around Asperger’s, its thousands of members post on the message board and get feedback. Adults with Asperger’s, as well as parents of children with Asperger’s, are welcome to post.
  • The Asperger Parent: How to Raise a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome and Maintain your Sense of Humor by Jeffrey Cohen. This book is focused on what parents go through, and is full of personal and humorous anecdotes from one Asperger’s parent.
  • Asperger’s Syndrome: The Wikipedia page on Asperger’s, useful as a starting point for understanding this complex condition.
  • The Asperger’s Syndrome Institute: This institute, founded by John Ortiz, PhD, has books by Dr. Ortiz available as well as links to useful outside resources.
  • The Best Kind of Different: Our Family’s Journey with Asperger’s Syndrome by Curt and Schonda Schilling. The legendary Red Sox pitcher and his wife, who is a melanoma survivor, recount their experiences before and after their son was diagnosed with Asperger’s.
  • The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood. According to its publisher, this is the definitive handbook for anyone afflicted by Asperger’s. The author is considered to be one of the preeminent researchers in the field.
  • Documentary about Asperger’s Syndrome: This nine-minute clip from a longer documentary has been posted on YouTube by the subject, who has Asperger’s. Seeing how people with Asperger’s interact, particularly with each other, makes the condition tangible in ways that simply reading about it may not.
  • Kids Health: Asperger Syndrome: This is a good resource for understanding the details of what Asperger’s means for you and your child.
  • The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support Center: This organization, which calls itself OASIS for short, has partnered with another organization called MAAP to combat autism with blogs, forums and newsletters.
  • Neurodiversity.com: This site has selected a truly impressive list of links to help you continue with your Asperger’s research. A column on the left has links to book resources on Amazon.com.
  • Parenting a Child with Asperger Syndrome: 200 Tips and Strategies by Brenda Boyd. This is a practical guide to many aspects of dealing with an Asperger child. User reviews call it “helpful” and “delightfully logical.”
  • PsychForums: The Asperger’s forum on PsychForums is very lively and updates often. Recent topics include “AS & Parenting” and “Son diagnosed, maybe I am as well.”
  • Spectrum of Support: Formerly OC Asperger Support Group, this group welcomes individuals with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism. They have weekend meetings in Orange County, CA as well as an online discussion forum.