How to Get a Parent Out of Autism Denial

I’m often asked “How do you get a parent out of autism denial?” In the first page of my book, The Verbal Behavior Approach, I say that my husband first mentioned the possibility of autism when Lucas was only 21 months old. I was horrified and I told him that I never ever wanted to hear the word autism again. And it’s kind of ironic because I say, speak, type, and write autism so many times a day now.

I quickly went into a deep state of denial for over a year. This denial didn’t help anyone, especially Lucas, who fell further and further behind his peers. To the point where I had to do something. That year was so critical. Back in the late 1990s, I didn’t know what ABA was. And I certainly didn’t know the techniques I now use. So it’s very exciting when I get to work with very young children. Because that’s when you’re going to see the most progress.

You may have older clients and older children, and I want to tell you it’s never too late. I’m making lots of progress with older kids as well, and so it’s never too late to start these interventions.

Families in Autism Denial

I think now there are fewer parents in denial than there were back then. The prevalence of autism is so much higher now. It seems like everyone knows someone with a child with autism. There’s also more evidence to show that really intervening early can turn things around.

But there’s still going to be some people in denial. A lot of times it’s the mom saying there is something wrong and pursuing a diagnosis and the dad is in denial. Grandparents can come into the mix a lot, as well. Either grandparents are totally on board or totally not on board. And then you have to deal with those dynamics as well. In most cases I have found that one person is in denial or in more denial than other family members.

How to Help Someone in Autism Denial

So the question is, how do you get a person out of denial?

My advice for getting people out of denial is to offer hope, and to even tell them that if they intervene very early kids can sometimes become indistinguishable from their peers. One of my first video blogs 2 years ago is on autism denial, and I highly recommend watching it after this one. I’m on such a strong mission to help parents not be in denial. Whether it’s autism or not, I know these techniques that I’m teaching work like a charm.

To address autism denial, you need to realize that everyone has their own history, their own baggage, and their own culture, and understand the dynamics between parents. Is it a single parent or 2-parent family? Are there grandparents or other relatives who often come into the mix? I know my mother-in-law was one of the first people to tell my husband she thought there might be a problem.

Applied Behavior Analysis

What do you do with a parent that’s in autism denial? What if you’re starting to accept things yourself about delays in your child but your partner is not? For me, what got me out of denial after that whole year, was an autism mom that I went to visit. I didn’t have Lucas there with me at the visit, and at that point, I was still telling this mom that I thought it was just a significant language delay, not autism. But she had a child with autism, and she was telling me that even if Lucas just had a speech delay, as I was hoping, she suggested that I needed to learn about ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) treatment.

With ABA, even young children who were diagnosed with severe autism could be treated and in some cases, young children could recover from autism. This same autism mom, on the same day, told me that the earlier you start intensive ABA therapy, and the milder the autism to start, the better the outcome.

Basically, after a year in denial, this autism mom told me that there was a real treatment for kids with autism and real hope that ABA therapy could work. It could work even if Lucas didn’t have autism and it was just a speech delay. Either way, I needed to get on it and I needed to learn about ABA. So literally on the way home from this mom’s house, I stopped at the bookstore and started looking into autism and ABA. I bought two books and read them very quickly.

Recognizing Autism

After reading the description of autism in these two books, I knew that Lucas had autism. More importantly, I knew that I needed to help get him diagnosed and start ABA as soon as possible.

Today, more than 2 decades after my year of denial, there’s less stigma and more evidence to show that intervening early can really turn things around. People are less likely to be in denial now than they were in the late 1990s, but denial is still a big issue for many people.

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Waiting Lists

There’s also another big issue that wasn’t so bad back in the late 1990s. The waiting lists to get an autism evaluation and to get ABA therapy started are very long. Just to get to a developmental pediatrician for an evaluation is a 9 month to a 2-year wait. Can you imagine if you thought your toddler might have cancer and were told that you’d have to wait 9 months to 2 years to see if it was actually cancer?

Then there’s often more lines and more waiting lists for good ABA treatment. It is just crucial that parents get out of denial as soon as possible and get on wait lists. But there’s a lot you can do to turn speech delays and early signs of autism around even without a diagnosis.

Getting Help

While you wait, I encourage parents of young children with signs of autism to check out my website. And learn all you can about ABA. Because if ABA can help kids with severe autism, it can help all children with any kinds of delays.

If you’re a parent, grandparent, early intervention professional, or concerned friend, who is worried about a 1 to 3-year-old who is showing signs of autism, hyperactivity, excessive tantrums, or delays in language, I urge you to attend a free online workshop at

When you get more information from the workshop, this will empower you to help get anyone out of denial. You can share that workshop with them, too.

Wherever you’re watching or reading this, leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up and share this video with others who might benefit. I will see you right here next week.

Start making a difference for your child or client with autism or signs of autism through free training!

Attend a FREE Workshop!