As a new parent, you have so many questions and usually a little fear or anxiety of the unknown. This is the same as when you find out your child has Autism or been diagnosed with any disability or illness. There are not just the normal questions, but therapies to think about, Interventions and behavioral hurdles to overcome, as well as adjustment and education for all family members. It is important to focus on the positive. Just like any other child, a child who has autism responds well to positive reinforcement. Praise for behaviour or steps they’ve accomplished. Be specific with communication, so they know exactly so they know exactly what it is you liked about their behaviour. Whether your child is on the spectrum or not, praise your child for who he/she is. As a parent, loving, communicating to, and praising your child for who they are is key.
There are many stresses and differences in parenting, that come with being a parent to a child with ASD. There are also many strategies for making life easier & coping with the stresses, so do not fear.
When your child has been diagnosed with autism, the first thing to do is:
Learn about Autism
The more you know about autism spectrum disorder, the better equipped you will be to make informed decisions to understand and help your child. Educate yourself about the treatment options, read, ask questions, involve yourself in carer meetings and participate in all treatment decisions. Arm yourself with as much knowledge and information as you can. Do not make any rash decisions or believe the first, second or third group session or therapist you see, on what will work for & what is best for your child. Over time, you will see & adjust accordingly.
Become an Expert on your child’s triggers, challenges & behaviors. What does your child find stressful, scary or frightening? If you understand what affects, or sets your child off, you will be better at troubleshooting problems and modifying or preventing situations that cause difficulties as well as what elicits a positive response.
Accept your child as they are. Do not focus on how your child is different from other children, or what he or she is missing or behind in. Never ever compare or judge your child. Enjoy your child’s own personality, celebrate every success, no matter how small or large. A child who has the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance will flourish and this will help your child more than anything else.
Don’t jump to conclusions or Give up It is impossible to predict the course of autism spectrum disorder or what life is going to be like for your child. People living with autism are just like everybody else, they have a lifetime to develop their abilities and grow. Don’t jump to conclusions with prediction’s on what it will be like. It will cause stress, anxiety, you will become impatient and this has the potential to put limitation’s on what your child is capable of, as you are the closest one to your child, his/her main teacher, and your child will pick up on your vibe. Be especially careful of this if your child is non communicative or is delayed in their speech, this does not mean they are not listening or picking up on your vibes. In fact, if their speech is delayed usually their other senses are heightened as they are more reliant on them from using them more. A common issue associated with Autism is sensory issues. Be patient, give it time, you will most likely try a lot of different techniques, therapists and treatments or approaches trying to figure out what is best for your child, yourself and your family. Stay positive and try not to get discouraged
Below are some of the most important tools you can have in your parenting pocket to make home life easier for your child, family and yourself:
Stick to a Schedule Children with ASD like and respond well to routine, when they have a schedule you must stick to it. Making sure they get consistent guidance and interaction, so they can practice what they have been taught at therapy, and from at home with yourself and other family members whilst interacting. This can make learning new skills and behaviors become a lot easier, and help them apply their knowledge in different situations and ways. Keep in close contact with teachers and therapists so that you can align on the same set of techniques and methods of interaction.
Always put play on the schedule Finding activities that look like fun, and not educational or more therapy will help your child open up and connect with you. You can then slowly filter the educational & therapist’s techniques into playtime. You can actually sneakily do this from the start, especially with speech & communication. Stick to a schedule and regular times for meals, therapy, playtime, school, bath and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum, this will avoid any unnecessary upsets. If there are unavoidable schedule changes, prepare your child for this in advance.
Just as important to sticking to a schedule or routine is to:
Be Consistent This is for many reasons. Children with ASD learn more slowly and have a hard time applying what they’ve learned in one setting, such as a therapists office or school, as their peers would. They will or may pick up bits and pieces, this is why it is so important to continue practising what they are learning about at home and include it in play time, as previously suggested. Children are more likely to remember what they are taught if it was fun. Find out what your child’s therapist is doing with your child and practise it at home regularly, creating consistency in your child’s environment is the best way to reinforce learning. Also exploring the possibility of having therapy “as such” take place in more than one place or venue will help or encourage your child to transfer what he or she as learned from one environment to another. It is also important to be consistent in the way you interact with your child. As it is with parenting any child, however even more so when parenting children with ASD as their behaviors are often challenging.
There are hundreds of outside resources and interventions that can and more than likely will be used to help your child gain better skills or rather improve on the one’s they do have!
When choosing therapy for your child, seek advise from your child’s pediatrician and other professionals involved in your child’s diagnosis. Follow your heart, your know your child better than anybody. If your child is delayed with speech, intervene with intensive speech therapy. If your child is small in frame & has has lung or breathing issues, it’s more than likely your child will benefit from occupational therapy.
Before choosing any intervention program or therapy, it is worth collecting information on the therapies you are considering and discuss it with the medical health team who know your child. Find out about the time, effort and cost involved. If you have other children, you may not have the time or resources to commit to an intensive program. This may set of feelings of not being able to do enough, we have all felt this guilt, however therapy is extremely expensive and you do not want to commit to one that does not suit your whole family.
Be wary of program’s that claim to work for all children on the autism spectrum. This approach may be too broad to be specific.
Creating a home that is a safe zone is important for every child. Carve out a private space for your child to feel relaxed, secure and safe. There are so many more tips to Parenting and Autism, including teaching skills & practical strategies. We will include these in specific articles.
Good luck with parenting and the special moments and joys that come with the ASD intellect and your child.