Tips for Parents to Help Their Children with Autism
No parent is ever prepared for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or for the confusion that follows. If you’ve recently found out that your child has autism, you will probably be bombarded with conflicting advice from everyone. It’s important to understand that even though autism is not something your child will ‘grow out of’, there are plenty of steps that you can take to help your child learn and grow as an individual.
Tips for Parents to Help their Children with Autism
- Stick to a schedule
Children with autism need and crave consistency, which is why you should adopt a regular daily routine. This schedule should be highly structured with specific timings for sleep, waking up, meals, study, play, and therapy. Children with autism perceive the world in a different manner, which is why they find it difficult to make sense of their environment. The predictability of their daily routine creates a sense of safety and security that helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are times when disruptions are just unavoidable. In such cases, prepare your kids well in advance by repeatedly reminding them about the upcoming change.
- Be careful when using idioms
We use everyday idioms without a second thought, but this can pose a serious challenge to children with autism. You might tell your child to jump in for a quick shower or hop into the car and they could take it quite literally, putting them at risk of injury. Similarly, if your child overhears you saying that it’s raining cats and dogs, be prepared to deal with a tantrum when they are disappointed with the lack of canine and feline rain! Your child will always take everything you say at face value and it is important that you understand that this literal thinking affects all aspects of their daily life.
- Take them grocery shopping
You might think that the grocery store with intercom announcements, crowds of strange people, and tempting toys would be the worst place for your child. However, it’s good for your child to learn to interact with the world from a young age as this will minimize communication problems later on. Before you go grocery shopping with your child, go over the rules repeatedly. Be specific when you word the rules – instead of saying, “don’t wander off”, say “hold the handle of the shopping cart”. You should also bring your child’s favorite stuffed toy and a pair of noise-cancelling ear plugs in case your child starts to feel overwhelmed.
- Use the therapist’s techniques at home
Your child’s therapist will teach him or her to use communication tools such as sign language and visual aids. However, your child may not think of using these techniques at home or school as they are associated with therapy sessions. Stay up to date on your child’s progress with these techniques so that you can implement them at home, and they can become a part of your child’s environment. Use these techniques at different locations – at the park, when you go over to visit family and when you go to restaurants. This will encourage your child to use these communication techniques regardless of the setting or environment.
- Set aside daily fun time
Dealing with ASD can be quite challenging with regular therapy sessions, continuous monitoring, and coping with outbursts. It is vital that you put aside time on a daily basis just to bond with your child and enjoy time together. Understand your child’s likes and dislikes and then plan your activities accordingly. Your child might simply enjoy playing with Lego in silence, so be willing to spend an hour just sitting with your child and working on your own Lego creation. Similarly, you can have painting or clay sculpting sessions together. This will help to reduce your child’s stress and anxiety levels, as well as improve communication.
- Reward consistently
Children with autism react well to positive reinforcement so make sure that you recognize and reward good behavior. Be consistent with rewards and explain to your child precisely why that reward was given. For instance, you can have a sticker chart and reward him for stickers for various accomplishments – from brushing his teeth to putting his toys away or even keeping his socks and shoes in the right place. Make sure that you keep plenty of these stickers in your cupboard so that you never run out of them. This simple tip will help instill a sense of pride in your child for a job well done.
- Join a support group
Join a support group for parents of children with autism (or at least an online group). This is a great way to get tips and suggestions from people who are facing the same challenges as you. Support groups are also a good way to learn about new therapies and techniques as well as training workshops and other social outings. Most importantly, support groups provide a place for parents to understand the emotional impact of autism and that they are not alone in their struggle. Joining a support group will also help you learn new ways to connect with your child and how to overcome communication issues.
Behavioral therapy is an integral part of any autism treatment plan as this developmental disorder impairs your child’s ability to communicate and interact. According to What To Expect experts, most children with autism require at least 25 hours of structured therapy per week. As a parent of a child with autism, you might feel isolated and helpless, but there are plenty of free government services and school-based programs that will help your child overcome challenges and lead a happy life.
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