3 Basic Tips for Coping with an Autistic Child One-Day-at-a-Time
Raising an autistic child is a marathon and not a sprint. And as such, parents of autistic children and other caregivers such as relatives or a child-sitter need to know the basics of how to care for and cope with an autistic child on a day to day basis. Autism experts from the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently offer tips that not only can help a child manage his or her autism, but in turn can also help parents cope with the disorder.
The following is a compilation of fundamental tips recommended by autism experts that can help parents and caregivers with the challenges of caring for a child with autism:
Autism Tip #1: Become an expert on autism and on your child
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is like the spectrum of wavelengths of light―each autistic child communicates on and shines under a different wavelength. According to Kristi Menear, Ph.D., chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Human Studies, identifying and knowing the spectrum of your autistic child can help guide a parent in helping their autistic child with particular challenges such as with cognition, sensory integration, motor development, social and communication skills.
“Learn about where your child falls and what that means,” says Menear. “Once you know to what extent your child has the disorder, you can create a plan of action.”
However, there is more to educating yourself on autism than knowing where your child lies within the spectrum and what to expect, you must also learn the particulars of your individual and unique child. To accomplish this you need to be able to identify your child’s triggers:
• What does your autistic child find stressful?
• What does your autistic child find calming?
• What does your autistic child find uncomfortable?
• What does your autistic child find enjoyable?
To discover these triggers you need to be aware of nonverbal cues and pay attention to your child’s sensory sensitivities:
• Look for nonverbal cues that your autistic child may be using to communicate.
• Pay attention to the kinds of sounds they make, their facial expressions, and the gestures they use when they’re tired, hungry, or want something.
• Figure out what sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations trigger your kid’s “bad” or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response.
If you understand what specific triggers affect your child, you’ll have a better grasp of how to deal with a problem or situation.
Autism Tip #2: Make planning and consistency your to-do list
Changing your and your autistics child’s daily routine can cause distress for your child and for you. One hallmark of autism is the need for normalcy. Ensure that your child is scheduled with regular times for meals, therapy, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. However, this does not mean that every day is like Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day”; rather, that steps have to be taken in planning ahead to lessen the disruption.
“The unfamiliar may be changes to a daily schedule, diet or environment, as well as a lack of accommodations that are necessary to set the child up for success,” Menear explains.
Recommendations for parents include:
• Provide gradual preparation prior to any change. For many individuals with ASD, this is often best done with visual aids such as pictures, video and written stories.
• Decrease negative sensory input and introduce new concepts in planned phases that match the person’s learning style and communication skills.
• Provide something or someone familiar to help balance the unfamiliar such as preparing a backpack with familiar items that can easily be retrieved if a child needs a familiar touch of home.
“Also, have a talk with your child about the plans for the day,” says Menear.
Autism Tip #3: Make time for family fun and personal space
Parents need to remember that a child with autism is a child that needs to be active and be allowed to play just as much his or her non-autistic peers and that therapy does not count as play time.
Autism experts recommend the following approaches to play:
• Schedule playtime when your child is most alert and awake. Figure out ways to have fun together by thinking about the things that make your child smile, laugh, and come out of their shell. Your child is likely to enjoy these activities most if they don’t seem therapeutic or educational.
• Consider a child’s interests and customize physical fitness activities with that in mind. Menear explains that many children with autism particularly like repetitive activities like biking, jogging and swimming.
“If someone is very interested in numbers, there could be a math component to performing or analysing the activity,” Menear said. “Or the person could be motivated by trying to match someone else’s score or time.” She also recommends involving the entire family in play activities. “For young children, it is very beneficial to match interests to physical activities in which the family can engage together, so there is the win-win of a family activity that benefits all in terms of health,” says Menear.
But just as there is a time for play with others there is also a time when an autistic child needs time to him or herself. Autism experts from HelpGuide.org recommend that creating a personal space for some quiet time can be beneficial to an autistic child―and the overworked parent.
• Carve out a private space in your home where your child can relax, feel secure, and be safe. This will involve organizing and setting boundaries in ways your child can understand.
• Use visual cues such as colored tape to mark areas that are off limits, labeling items in the house with pictures.
• Safety-proof the house―particularly if your child is prone to tantrums or other self-injurious behaviors.
Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket
University of Alabama at Birmingham News: “Tips to help your child manage the challenges of autism”
HelpGuide.org: “Autism Treatment Strategies and Parenting Tips”