Q: My child was recently diagnosed with autism, and I'm having a difficult time trying to get my arms around this very complex disorder. Not only  have I been told that I need to get several additional evaluations for my child,  but I'm concerned that I won't be able to take time off from work or manage my  other family responsibilities. Can you tell me what to expect with the diagnosis and how I can manage my everyday family life?

A: Receiving a diagnosis of autism can be overwhelming for most parents. Although you might be inclined to immediately launch into action, the first thing you want to do is give yourself time to digest the information and to grieve. Autism is a lifelong disorder that has no cure. So trust me, there will be plenty of time to take much needed action. However, processing your feelings and addressing the feelings of those around you are critical first steps in gaining control of the situation.

Once you have made the emotional adjustments, you should begin thinking about the practical aspects of the disorder. This includes accepting that over the next several months, your child will have a multitude of examinations, evaluations, therapy sessions and school meetings that will require your attendance. Get a calendar, either paper or electronic, and begin to identify the days that you are available. The key is proactive planning; keep in mind that the more you can take control of your own calendar, the more in control you will feel.

After identifying the dates that you are available, clear them with your employer. Federal law and most state statutes allow parents to take time off to care for the medical needs of family members, which include medical and therapeutic visits for a child with autism--if you are unfamiliar with these laws, ask your human resources manager or job supervisor for details.  Planning the time off from work will allow you to have a clear picture of the times that you can attend appointments when you contact the necessary medical providers.

The next big change that you will need to address--managing your home life--will involve similar organization and proactive thinking.  Your child may have a special diet which will require you to shop at different stores or to cook meals differently. These shifts in eating will likely impact the entire family, requiring adequate preparation. I suggest calling a family meeting soon after learning of the diagnosis and continuing those meetings as you continue to learn more about your child's requirements and how his disorder impacts the entire family. At these meetings, provide the family with as much information as possible about autism and what they can expect in terms of the extra pull on your time.

Another purpose of these meetings can be to enlist the help of the entire family. Managing the care of an autistic child without assistance is nearly impossible, so getting both your immediate and extended family involved is ideal. If you have other children, they can help with simple chores, while adult relatives can do everything from helping drive to appointments to making dinner. The key is to surround yourself with positive and supportive family members who love your child and who are willing to help with his or her care. Including the entire family will not only help you manage both work and home, but it will also help your child and those around him.

Managing partner and President of Martin & Martin, LLP, one of the largest African American-female owned law firms in Los Angeles, Areva specializes in employment, education and general business litigation.  In 2007, the firm was selected as "LA's Top Black Law Firm" and was awarded by the California Minority Counsel Program the "Minority-Owned Law Firm Client Service Award" of the year.  Mother of an autistic son, Areva is President and co-founder of Special Needs Network (SNN), a non-profit launched specifically to support families with special needs children.  Only two years after it's founding, SNN is already changing policies, treatment and lives.  SNN is only one reason California Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) has named Areva as the only African American woman on the Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism.  Most recently, Areva was appointed on the board of directors for the United Healthcare Children's Fund which allows her to continue her work as an advocate for children.  This organization provides funds for children in need of medical care who either have no health insurance or gaps in their health insurance.