If I were to give advice to anyone who suspects their child has autism, there are two things about this complex issue that I know, in the sense that I know the sky is blue. The first is that, regardless of a label, you don't have to change the way you love your child. If autism comes into your life, you may have to change some of your behaviors and expectations but you do not have to change the way your heart feels about your child. Providing unconditional love is the most important thing. Period. The second piece of advice would be to not waste time fretting about it. Get an evaluation - one in which you have confidence, from professionals you trust - and go from there. Worrying about it wastes precious time and energy. If your child is 0-3 years of age, find your state's Early Intervention Services. If you child is older than three, contact your local school district for information. The earlier you can start services the better, but it is NEVER too late to help a child. NEVER.
If you feel that your child also has medical issues, you aren't alone. Sweet Girl has had digestive issues of varying degrees from a very young age. Because she was growing, her doctors never really addressed the issue. As I started researching more about autism it became apparent that Sweet Girl is one of many with autism and co-morbid conditions. There are doctors who have (usually due to personal experiences with their own children/grandchildren) started treating these co-morbid conditions. You can find a lot of information about this here at the Autism Research Institute web site. It should be noted that there are many others, both within and outside the autism community, who feel as if these methods have little or no effect and are a vehicle of false hope. In my personal experience, we gained a lot from some of the treatments discussed at ARI. Some of them had no effect and therefore were not continued. You know your child and their health better than anyone else. You can make that decision for yourself.
Behavioral therapies are means of instruction based around different aspects of education, socialization, and behaviors. Best practices for early intervention call for 25-40 hours of direct (either 1:1 or 2:1 ratio) instruction. This is a tall order, as many children are diagnosed with autism under the age of three. Getting a two year-old to focus for 8 hours a day is daunting. There are many different means of behavioral therapy and many different ways to tailor the therapy to your child. There are a few insurance companies that cover some of the cost for ABA if there is an official autism diagnosis. This is extremely helpful as many ABA programs cost between $30,000 to $50,000 a year. Unfortunately, there are many insurances that don't cover behavioral therapies. You can implement your own ABA (or RDI or whatever therapy model you feel fits best) in your own home. Though that option is much cheaper, it also has disadvantages as it can be confusing and overwhelming. Autism Speaks has a page with links to many of the different behavioral therapies used. You can find it here.
The gluten-free, casein-free diet is one of the first and most effective things we have done with Sweet Girl. She has been gfcf (and mostly soy-free as well) for two years now. There are several different diets that have been discussed to help with digestive issues, particularly for kids with autism or other developmental delays. Gfcf does not work as a cure, it does not work for every child, and many times it is too much for caretakers to do consistently. Sweet Girl still has digestive problems, but to a lesser extent and we're working on them with the hopes that someday she can eat whatever she'd like (though, of course, I'd never let her do that as her diet would consist of pizza ice cream with a side of hot dogs and Skittles). You can find helpful information about gfcf and other diets here.
Autism is not an easy thing, but it is not an impossible thing. It can be overwhelming and all-consuming, you know, like parenthood. There are lots of us out there, in your community or on the internet, who would be more than happy to lend an ear, an email, or a tissue