Simple Ways Parents and Professionals Can Help Children With ASD
As a professional working extensively in the area of special education needs I saw a pattern as I interacted with different professionals and parents. The interesting part is that this pattern is unintentional as we don’t know whether what we are doing is right or wrong which leads to a lot of anxiety and confusion for the child and ourselves.
In many cultures, the biases and prejudices that abound pose huge obstacles and there are also invisible social barriers that make it anything but easy to allow these families and children to feel like they are an equal part of the social fabric. Even if families are prepared to step outside their own homes with a child with special educational needs (SEN), this attitude comes at a price. The impediments are far deeper and greater in the external environment than just those presented by the child’s condition.
Here is the list of some of the things where we can work as parents and professionals to help children and ourselves:
This is crucial and starts at home. I can understand this is far easier said than done and many parents go through DABDA process (the stages of the Kübler-Ross stage model that describe the emotional and psychological responses experienced during life-changing situations) before they finally accept the child’s condition. But the earlier the diagnosis is accepted, the better.
Sometimes parents evade the discussion or just give vague answers when being asked about the delays in the child. Often parents ask me “What good will it do my child by announcing to the world?” Talking about it is the best way to increase awareness and encourage acceptance. If a parent is not able to discuss his/her child’s condition, then it is a futile effort to expect others to understand and accept. People may still talk in hushed tones.
Parental attitude and acceptance can lead to others also looking at him/her in the positive light leading to more appreciation than avoidance. It is a very significant first step yet equally difficult as aptly said in quotes “The beginning is always the hardest.” Undoubtedly, there will always be someone around us who will not understand this, but then not everyone is supposed to.
2. Fixation on developmental milestones
Seeing other people’s children moving smoothly from one milestone to another can be overwhelming. Having a nine-year-old watching nursery rhymes is fine as far as he is happy. Insisting a child with special needs to read books, or watch age-appropriate programs will lead to nothing but more anxiety, meltdowns, and damaged self-esteem.
It is more important to connect with things that a child can and be happy and wait for his/her readiness to accept and do other things around him. The golden rule is when he is ready he will do it. It is important to stop trying to impose social standards on a child, and you will find that there are more things to do and enjoy together. It is important to understand “Happy children make happy families,” and vice versa.
3. Bargaining and the Internet
Technology is very important in today’s global world but can be equally misleading. I have seen parents doing research on the Internet for hours to search for that magic potion that will “fix” the child’s challenges. However, there is none. Instead of enjoying childhood and letting the child be the kid that he/she is, parents and professionals are busy trying to pack his days with supplements, protocols, therapies, exercises and more protocols.
There is no time for him to be himself or for parents to be with him. Therapies are required, and it helps but not to remove his limitations but to work with those limitations. The child’s uniqueness should not be a matter of anxiety and a work-in-progress. It is absolutely important to encourage him to reach his/her maximum potential, but definitely not to be obsessed with trying to make him someone he is not.
Click here to find out more
4. Assuming meltdowns as tantrums
Autism is commonly characterized by behavior challenges and meltdowns. Often we tend to ignore it when sometimes it is a way of expression for the child. Often it is thought that by not paying attention to a child’s behavior one would be able to discourage and eventually eliminate it. All meltdowns are not bad behaviors. What we need to work on is the realization to be more attentive to the child’s cues. Many times there is a function to his/her behavior.
It’s not to throw tantrums. It has a very specific reason for its occurrence. For instance, there could be some phases during the year when the behavior(s) would increase like rolling on the floor, crying, irritability, grinding teeth, and banging the head. It is important to identify triggers for this behavior which is important to bring down the meltdowns.
5. Thinking a child is always in his/her own world
I hear the phrase “Always in his/her while own world,” but it’s not always true. What comes across to us as indifferent, isolated, is not always what it actually is. It might not show it in the most obvious ways, but children are observing and absorbing. We are often surprised and should never underestimate them. Yes, children might sometimes wander off into his/her safe zone, just to take his sensory edge off, but the child is very much where he/she should be…learning and adapting…even though we might not feel it.
6. Expecting everyone to understand all the time
It is important to understand and enjoy everything the child does. Parents know the best about their children and how to help. It is important to share and learn from other’s experiences. Not everyone can understand the child as well as the parents. The golden rule is to stop expecting when they have not even walked a single step with you. It’s not their journey. It’s yours, and you are doing well. Your power as a parent and professional lies in taking charge of the situation, being in control and to spread awareness.
I think as parents and professionals we need to review these pointers, introspect, and get a clearer insight into the lives of children. It pushes and motivates one to try harder and help change the perception of autism for better with no right or wrong answers. Evolving and learning are important, and it is an ongoing process.
Sonu Khosla, a developmental psychologist with extensive experience of working with children with special education needs (ALS). Currently Head of SEN at Pathways School in Noida, India, she has also conducted training modules and workshops for companies and educational organizations in the Netherlands. She has worked on research projects in association with Johns Hopkins Institute, Baltimore, USA.
This article was featured in Issue 77 – Achieving Better Health with ASD