As a parent, receiving a diagnosis of autism for your child can be overwhelming and invoke feelings of fear, grief, and even loss. However, these difficult emotions can also be important motivators for parents to find the resources they and their child need to cope, grow, and thrive.
What is Autism?
Autism literally means “aloneness,” or living in one’s own world. In severe cases, children may have no ability to interact with others, treating people the same way as they treat objects. Even in milder cases, children may have difficulty understanding and relating to others, and will find it especially challenging to understanding other people’s perspectives and emotions.
Without treatment, children on the autism spectrum may not develop effective social skills and struggle with communication and appropriate behavior. It’s very unusual for individuals to function well in society without any intervention.
While finding appropriate treatment is essential, dealing with the day-to-day care of a child with autism is challenging for the best of us. If you’re the parent or caretaker of a child with autism, our hope is that the following strategies will help you manage the realities of life in an effective, positive way.
- ASK FOR HELP.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. As a caretaker of a child with autism, one of the best things you can do is to be open and honest about what you need. Often, there are more people out there than you think who are ready and willing to help.
Reach out to other parents who are on a similar journey and professionals who can help and support you. Most importantly, find a supportive community for you, your child, and your family.
- FIND A SUPPORT GROUP.
Part of asking for help is connecting to other parents and caretakers in the ASD community. You may be surprised at the welcome that you’ll receive. Receiving the diagnosis of Autism or Asperger’s for your child can be overwhelming. Having the support of those that have faced the same challenges is not only desirable – it’s essential.
- GIVE OTHERS THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.
When you’re the parent of a child with autism, it’s probably inevitable that you’ll receive a negative comment from time to time and feel that people are judging you and your child’s behavior. Most of the time, it’s just that they don’t understand the truth about ASD. Take the opportunity to educate them about what autism is. Explain the effort required by a child with autism to cope with normal day-to-day interactions that the rest of us take for granted.
- ENGAGE IN FLOOR ACTIVITIES.
Many children with autism have difficulty making eye contact and engaging with other people. This is the perfect opportunity to get down where they are and enter THEIR world.
- INTRODUCE DIFFERENT TEXTURES THROUGH PLAY.
Children on the autism spectrum are often challenged with tactile sensitivities, finding specific textures irritating or even frightening. It can be useful to explore various textures with your child through play. Playing games with textured balls or blocks, introducing different washcloths at bath time, making crafts or playdough from scratch, and even baking can be fun, safe ways for your child to experience different textures.
- LEARN TO SPEAK IN 2-3 WORDS PHRASES.
For children with a limited vocabulary, or those who are completely non-verbal, limiting communication to 2-3 word phrases can be more effective than long sentences. For example, Stand up. Sit down. Get the toy. Lights off. Brush teeth.
- CREATE AS MUCH STRUCTURE AS POSSIBLE WITHIN YOUR HOME.
All individuals with autism have a high need for structure. As much as possible, create reliable systems for your child so that they know what to expect. For example, many parents find it useful to use a timer to communicate when one activity is over and another is beginning. Structure decreases anxiety and helps children with autism feel more in control of their world, which can, in turn, decrease destructive behavior.
- SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS.
Help your child find success more often by setting reasonable expectations for them. Be realistic with goals and create specific strategies for their achievement. (Your ABA Therapist can help!) Every step towards a goal should be broken down into clear, manageable steps so that your child can experience their progress in a concrete way.
- ESTABLISH PLAY DATES.
It’s common for parents of children with autism to express frustration that their child has a difficult time making friends or doesn’t seem to like anyone. They might even appear afraid of other children because they don’t know how to manage social interactions. Work with your ABA Therapist to create a plan for regular, controlled social interaction so that your child can begin to learn how to engage with other people in socially acceptable ways. This process can be difficult and slow. Ask for help, be as patient as you can, and keep going. This social training will form the foundation for their future success.
- NEVER LOSE HOPE.
The most important piece of advice we have for parents of children on the spectrum is this: Children with autism have the potential to grow, improve, and thrive.
Autism IS treatable and if you hear otherwise, the source of that information is out of touch with current therapy options. It IS important to find effective therapy options for children with autism as soon as possible. The earlier children receive appropriate treatment, the better their prognosis.
The good news is that there are effective treatment options.
Even though every child is different, children with autism are typically challenged with deficits in the areas of sensory processing, visual perception, motor skills, social skills, and communication.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is the most effective therapy for dealing with these challenges and creating growth patterns that help the child function in a more positive way in the world. ABA therapy generally involves a therapist working one-on-one with your child for as many as 20 to 40 hours each week. Children are taught skills in a simple step-by-step manner that includes plenty of repetition and routine. After a while, therapy generally includes more global situations and community environments.
If you suspect that your child has autism, but have not yet received a diagnosis, we urge you to make an appointment to see your child’s physician. If you like, you can review some of the most prevalent signs of autism in this article. However, if your child does have autism, getting a diagnosis is important because it can open the doors to many services, and help you as a parent access quality information about treatment options.
As always, we are here to help! Contact us for questions about the most positive, effective treatment options available for children on every point of the spectrum.