In many families with an autistic child, parents are in "emergency" mode. Responding to the diagnosis as they might to a medical emergency, they drop everything to provide what's needed. At home, dishes, bills and family dinners may go by the wayside. In the community, friendships may slip and obligations may be forgotten.
When a parent is coping with autism, there just doesn't seem to be time for siblings' soccer games, social events or favorite outings.
And when a family is living with an autism diagnosis, the needs of children outside the family seem to disappear. So what if other kids lose out on the arts or athletics in school to pay for special needs programs? Tough luck on the teens whose college fund suddenly disappeared to support an intensive therapeutic program.
After all, some parents reason, those kids are typically developing and can take care of themselves. A child with autism can't.
Autism, however, is not a medical emergency. It's a way of life. While a child with autism may improve tremendously with appropriate interventions, treatments and supports, those interventions, treatments and supports will be needed (at least) for many years. Unlike a crisis, which is over quickly, autism will go on and on.
What's more, neither children with autism nor anyone else is likely to respond better when their family is in a state of upheaval. In fact, kids with autism are MORE likely to need stability, predictability and harmony than most people. And that goes double for the kids withOUT autism whose lives are suddenly set aside for the needs of a "special" sibling. Not to mention the parents of the child with autism, who may be responding to a child's needs by undermining their own communities, careers, marriages or financial well-being.
Another important point to consider: the fact that a treatment or intervention is expensive or difficult to obtain does not guarantee that it is likely to be particularly effective. Sure, you can spend thousands flying to the clinic of Dr. X for an expensive patented treatment, but you might do just as well driving around the corner to Dr. Y, whose services just happen to be covered under your insurance. Today there are even do-it-yourself therapies such as floortime and some forms of ABA which may quite effective for your child.
If, as some have said, autism is a marathon - and not a sprint - then crisis mode is not the right response to an autism diagnosis. Nor is an attitude of "do anything, sacrifice anything."
While a parent has the ability to decide the he or she really wants to sacrifice everything for the child with autism, the autistic child's siblings and schoolmates have no choice in the matter. And while other children may not be autistic, they, too, have needs. Many have challenges. And none have the ability to just go out and find themselves the enrichment opportunities, tutoring or funding they need to explore their talents, build their resumes, pay for college, and find the job of their dreams.