Raising a child can be exhausting, physically, mentally and emotionally. However, the fulfilment of knowing that you have done your part in ensuring that their wellbeing is taken care of lasts a lifetime. If you ask parents with autistic children, their special needs is no different. You merely need to be strong, not just for yourself, but for your kid as well.
Here are some parenting tips on how you can make the most out of life with your autistic child:
If you’ve recently learned that your child has or might have autism spectrum disorder, you’re probably wondering and worrying about what comes next. No parent is ever prepared to hear that a child is anything other than happy and healthy, and an ASD diagnosis can be particularly frightening. You may be unsure about how to best help your child, or confused by conflicting treatment advice. Or you may have been told that ASD is an incurable, lifelong condition, leaving you concerned that nothing you do will make a difference.
While it is true that ASD is not something a person simply “grows out of,” there are many treatments that can help children acquire new skills and overcome a wide variety of developmental challenges. From free government services to in-home behavioural therapy and school-based programs, assistance is available to meet your child’s special needs. With the right treatment plan and a lot of love and support, your child can learn, grow, and thrive.
Learn about autism. The more you know about autism spectrum disorder, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions for your child. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in all treatment decisions.
Become an expert on your child. Figure out what triggers your kid’s challenging or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your child find stressful or frightening? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects your child, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing or modifying situations that cause difficulties.
Accept your child, quirks and all. Rather than focusing on how your autistic child is different from other children and what he or she is “missing,” practice acceptance. Enjoy your kid’s special quirks, celebrate small successes, and stop comparing your child to others. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your child more than anything else.
Don’t give up. It’s impossible to predict the course of autism spectrum disorder. Don’t jump to conclusions about what life is going to be like for your child. Like everyone else, people with autism have an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities.
Be consistent. Children with ASD have a hard time applying what they’ve learned in one setting (such as the therapist’s office or school) to others, including the home. For example, your child may use sign language at school to communicate, but never think to do so at home. Creating consistency in your child’s environment is the best way to reinforce learning. Find out what your child’s therapists are doing and continue their techniques at home. Explore the possibility of having therapy take place in more than one place in order to encourage your child to transfer what he or she has learned from one environment to another. It’s also important to be consistent in the way you interact with your child and deal with challenging behaviours.
Stick to a schedule. Children with ASD tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. Again, this goes back to the consistency they both need and crave. Set up a schedule for your child, with regular times for meals, therapy, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare your child for it in advance.
Reward good behaviour. Positive reinforcement can go a long way with children with ASD, so make an effort to “catch them doing something good.” Praise them when they act appropriately or learn a new skill, being very specific about what behaviour they’re being praised for. Also look for other ways to reward them for good behaviour, such as giving them a sticker or letting them play with a favourite toy.
Create a home safety zone. Carve out a private space in your home where your child can relax, feel secure, and be safe. This will involve organizing and setting boundaries in ways your child can understand. Visual cues can be helpful (coloured tape marking areas that are off-limits, labelling items in the house with pictures). You may also need to safety proof the house, particularly if your child is prone to tantrums or other self-injurious behaviours.
A good treatment plan will:
- Build on your child’s interests
- Offer a predictable schedule
- Teach tasks as a series of simple steps
- Actively engage your child’s attention in highly structured activities
- Provide regular reinforcement of behaviour
- Involve the parents