An Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis can be scary for parents, and many often feel that their child’s life has been ruined. However, with early diagnosis, intervention programmes and buckets of patience from Mum and Dad, that is not the case.
For children with ASD, learning new skills and interacting with others can be difficult; but not to worry, because there are ways you can make your child’s learning experience easy and simple.
The importance of consistency
Firstly, there should be stability and consistency in your child's life. As routine is important to ASD children, they will find it difficult to bring new skills they've learned outside of the home, back into the home. For example, if your child is using sign language to communicate in school, it would be beneficial to also bring that into the home to help them learn to use it in other areas of their world.
You should also make sure you are consistent in the way you deal with the difficult challenges that come with certain behaviours, and how you interact with them on a daily basis. This, combined with appropriate intervention programmes, will provide a stable learning environment. These programmes come in the form of educational services, therapies and behavioural interventions.
Routines help your little one make sense of a scary, overwhelming world. Children with autism can excel further than they would have previously when they stick to a routine. Having a schedule with regular meal times, locations, school, therapy and bedtime enhances your little one’s life in a positive way and keeps disruptions to a minimum.
If there is a need to change the schedule, just make sure they are aware of the change in advance and are assured it will be okay.
Make their world safe and comforting
All children need to feel safe, especially children with autism. It is important to create a safe space for your little one to relax and feel secure in. This will also help your child to understand boundaries. If your child is prone to self-injurious behaviours, it would also be important to safety-proof your house to avoid any injuries that may occur with tantrums.
Some children with ASD are hypersensitive to things such as sound, light, touch, taste and smell, while others are actually under-sensitive. It can make a huge difference to your household to discover what movements, smells, sounds, etc. trigger your child's bad or good behaviour. This way, you will be able to avoid triggering bad behaviour in the future, as well as having the knowledge to calm your little one down.
Identify their attempts to communicate
One of the most stressful parts of having a child with ASD is communicating, as this can be incredibly difficult for both Mum and her little one. It is vital to understand your child’s needs, and so, learning non-verbal cues is incredibly important for parents living with ASD.
Paying attention to body language, facial expressions and specific gestures that show they are hungry, tired, or in need of something can make life a lot easier for your family. If these cues are not understood correctly, or picked up on at all, your child is likely to act out, just as a child without ASD would. Tantrum-throwing may be your child's way of communicating to you that they need your attention, so be patient – although we know this can seem impossible at times.
They may have a few quirks, but they’re still a child
It’s easy to get caught up in ASD ‘dos and don’ts’, but try to remember that your child is still a child, and sometimes what they really need is a little fun. Schedule play time when your child is the most awake and alert. Think of fun activities that you know your child will like and that will bring them out of their shell. Play time should be play time, so try not to make it too educational or therapeutic – the enjoyment should come from spending time with Mum, Dad or their siblings.
Get some support
Lastly, finding support and setting up a treatment plan is a good way of providing stability and balance in your child's life, as well as your own. A personalised plan can be tailored to your little one, and should strengthen their interests and offer a consistent schedule that is easy for them to adapt to.
The plan should teach a variety of tasks and engage your child's attention, in order to develop their skills. The plan should also provide the means for reinforcing good behaviour.
For your benefit – which will, in turn, benefit your child – it would be good to join an autism support group. This is a great way for you to meet other families that are dealing with similar challenges as you. Hearing how others deal with the same problems you have, and knowing that there are people who understand, can be really comforting to you and your family.
There are also individual, marital and family counselling centres that are there to provide a safe space for you to talk about any problems or difficulties you may have. It is okay to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or even just tired; just know there are people who support you and your family.