Raising a child with autism is a reality for many parents, and it presents a number of regular challenges. Yet there are a number of practical approaches which can assist on the journey of bringing up a child who is on the autism spectrum, although it must be stated immediately that no two autistic children are the same, and the benefits may vary or not be felt at all in some cases.
It is all about working with their environment and those who interact with your child to bring about positive changes. Here are some practical tips:
1. Don’t make comparisons
Not only is it futile, it will be upsetting for all concerned to make comparisons between your child and, say, his/her siblings who are not on the spectrum, or with peers who again are not on the autism spectrum.
Even comparing your child with other autistic children is futile as no two autistic children display exactly the same characteristics or react the same way to different challenges. Every child is unique, and although it can, at times, be a struggle, see your child’s development as his/her own unique journey on which you will play an integral role.
2. Help him/her recognize when they need a break
Help your child to understand when he/she is on the verge of getting frustrated and allow him/her to withdraw to a safe place he/she will not be sought out or judged. It is imperative an autistic child has this safety net in all situations.
3. Listen to him/her calmly and with an open mind
An autistic child will not do something if he/she doesn’t want to do it, perhaps even more so than any other child. Reasoning will be futile, so keep an open mind and try to understand his/her reasonings for resisting. Others may see this as too indulging, but these are different circumstances. Listen and understand as much as you can to get his/her perspective, and only then may you seek to intervene.
4. Help your child learn how to apply new skills to different situations
It can often be difficult for autistic children to apply skills in different contexts because those skills can be situational. Therefore, employ a patient approach to teaching those same skills in different circumstances, and in time your child will learn to adapt.
5. Keep an open mind
The fact is so much of what we see and do, and our perspective of it, is learned socially. Therefore, something we may consider to be ridiculous could, to another person with a different perspective, be anything but. By keeping this type of open mind and understanding many of our social habits are only that, you can learn to broaden your own horizons and embrace different approaches to seemingly normal things.
6. Maintain a sense of humor through all situations
As much as possible, keep a sense of humor. As previously stated, social habits, and what we consider to be acceptable or otherwise, are simply conditions we have put in place as a society and are not necessarily nature’s laws. An autistic child will often not immediately appreciate social norms have to be followed (and do they really, all the time?) so there will be plenty of occasions where laughter will be the best reaction.
“Others will see the funny side too if you allow them to follow your lead, because they will look to you, as the parent, to understand the boundaries, and this helps to create an environment free from tension for everybody,” points out Pamela Davies, a psychologist at Write my x and Next coursework.
7. Never underestimate how much he/she actually understands
Autistic children very often understand most, if not all, of what is going on around them. The difference is how they react to these conditions, and the level at which they can communicate.
8. Look into Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy
There are many therapeutic interventions for children on the autism spectrum, and ABA therapy is one of the best known. Look into whether this can be accessed, but also understand it does not work for everybody. Be prepared to explore alternative methods too.
9. Work with the school, and be an advocate for your child’s needs
Schooling will play an essential role in your child’s development, as with any child. But of course there are added challenges involved here, and additional care and attention will be required. Ensure you and your child’s school are signing off on the same page as frequently as possible, and if you believe something is not the way it should be, be an advocate for your child and don’t stop until someone listens to you.
10. Take a break yourself, and seek support
Raising a child with autism will be an incredibly rewarding, yet at times, exhausting task. Acknowledge you cannot do it alone and you cannot go at it 24/7/365. Seek support wherever you can get it and take a break from time to time to ensure when you return you can give your very best to your child.
This article was featured in Issue 94 – Daily Strategies Families Need