Daddy of 2 sons, one autistic, one Asperger’s.
PDD seems to be the “gateway diagnosis” - few if any autistic kids I’ve met were not first diagnosed with PDD. (but this is anecdotal - no cite)
I’m going to try and tell it like it is, which isn’t pretty, so I want to share that my oldest (autistic) boy has made truly stunningly tremendous progress in the last 6 years - to where I’m actually starting to save for college for him. (With my youngest we’re just starting the whole thing - again)
The first few years are critical. The more help/therapy/wraparound services, the better. Between wraparound and speech, ot and other therapies, my oldest was clocking well over 40 hours a week at one point in time. This costs lots of money, which is why you will constantly be fighting to get him what he needs, you’re competing for limited resources. Learn the law. Learn what an advocate is when you’re given the runaround. Understand that the people you need to get to sign off on services for your kid deal with many people like you, each with tremendous needs, so stay polite - but your kid cannot afford you to be meek.
Three things to watch out for - they sneak up on you:
You may well feel more guilt :the more you learn about autism, because there is so much more you could be doing with/for your kid that might help - if only you didn’t need to eat or sleep.
Your marriage (if applicable) will come under significant stress. Supposedly the divorce rate for parents of kids “on the spectrum” is north of 80%.
Your other kids will get less attention than if their sibling was not autistic, likely significantly less.
Things that help:
Support groups are awesome! You can learn so much there: from how to cut short the runaround you may be getting from the school district to which therapists may not be worth your time - all kind of tricks of the trade. And then there’s the support aspect thrown in for free… There are likely multiple groups in your area - check out more than one, to find some that fit your personality.
Families can be a huge resource. Grandparents or uncles can give the NT (Neuro-typical - read non-autistic) siblings some of the attention you maybe can’t give them, and can sometimes help you get a break.
Become an expert. Know that there’s much people don’t know about spectrum disorders, but there is a growing body of work on what therapies appear beneficial - so read up. Retain your sense of scepticism, though: there’s a lot of bad science out there, and sometimes it’s hard not to be seduced by a magic solution, especially if it’s presented well - There are huge debates about chelation for example.
Understand that taking care of getting your kid the help he needs will literally be a full time job, at least for the first few years. 40+ hours/week of your time
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People will help.
You’re going to be overwhelmed, but that will pass. This can change your life dramatically, but it’s ok. You are going to meet some of the most beautiful people, ever, in the kind souls that have made working with kids like yours their lives’ mission. You will be able to make more of a difference in his life than you likely would with a “normal” child. You are not going to want to change anything even if you could. You are going to have moments with your son you couldn’t have with any other kid - he’s going to make you so proud!
And, one day, the movie Rainman is kinda funny again.