Useful Tools for Navigating the Waters of Autism

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Article first published as Useful Tools for Navigating the Waters of Autism on Technorati. Boys with autism and their mother, posing for photo.

Autism is confusing, frustrating, and often misleading when looking from the outside in. Trying to understand someone else with autism is difficult, because you have to understand what they know versus what they repeat, what they learn versus what they don't, and what they can do versus what they can't. In the past five years since my oldest son was diagnosed, I thought I would go mad. Everyone had a theory, everyone had something to say, nothing seemed to be remotely relevant to the situation my family was in.

Fortunately I had a few tools that have managed to bring focus to my life as I wrestle with the enigma that is autism in my family.

  • Google Scholar: The Internet is a rather vast place, and perhaps the best example of ordered anarchy. As such, everyone with any kind of supposition, theory, or guess is able to publish to others who are willing to accept that "information" as truth. Fortunately Google has provided Google Scholar, a repository for searching scholarly journal articles that are peer reviewed. Of course, you do need to have access to those journals in order to read the research in their entirety, which is why it's so useful to work for a University. With this resource, I have been able to find out the myriad research points about autism being done, and just how credible they are based on the evidence.
  • Blogging: Blogging is more than a cathartic method of releasing frustrations, concerns, or sharing news. For me, it's been a useful method of getting feedback from industry leaders, concerned parents, and even proponents of various other theories regarding autism therapy and research. I've also been able to share my experiences.
    Another aspect of blogging is reading other blog entries of other family members, parents, social workers, psychologists, neuro-psychologists, pediatricians, and therapists who experience the world of autism first hand, and share their expertise.
  • When Technorati first offered to allow me to post directly to their news as a specialist in the Lifestyle Family section, I was blown over! I had no idea just how popular my blog had become, and how many people were following it. It was thrilling to know they wanted me as a contributor. It's been helpful to widen my reach with posts, get the word out there, share with others, and hear from so many it there.
  • Facebook: I never thought I would have believed it, having had so many negative experiences with students using social media while in class (hint: not a good thing to do with your teacher), but Facebook has become a useful source of news and information about autism, autism research, and autism therapies. It's still some sifting through chaff to get to the good kernels, but still a great sauce of information.
  • Twitter: Just like Facebook, Twitter has provided some good information about autism, though still requiring sifting.
  • Google News: A lot of good sources can come through Google News, with a special search for autism. A lot less sifting, so that means more time reading up in scholarly journals.
  • Google +: Another unexpected source of relevant information, Google + has become a valuable tool in learning about research, therapies, and keeping in contact with families from all over the world.

Without these sources from which to refer, I would have been lost in the sea of uncertainty that first enveloped me when my son was diagnosed. Sure, you can read Piget and his developmental psychologist theories, spend hours in a bookshop looking at this book or that, but how do you know which source is accurate, and which is just looking to make money from a demographic desperate for answers? It's so nice to have real sources and science on your side, if only to point out that there are no answers...yet.