Parenting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be exhausting, but it can also be incredibly hopeful and rewarding. We have gathered a few helpful suggestions and frequent questions when it comes to parenting Autistic children. Parents of children with ASD face different trials before diagnosis and have unique experiences when processing the initial diagnosis. Being a parent is oftentimes challenging and trying to understand your child with a disability can be overwhelming. This blog is designed to encourage and offer some resources for you and your child.
1. Have a Support System
You can read blogs and articles all day long about having a child with autism…but nothing will help as much as having people you can talk to. Parenting a child with special needs cannot be a one-person job. So whether it’s your best friend down the street, a support group, or your own family, have someone who is there to listen. Someone you can go to when you just feel like you cannot win. A very important lesson to learn when parenting a child with special needs is this: you are not alone.
2. Knowing How to Treat Your Child
There is a big difference in finding a cure and choosing treatment. There is no “cure” for Autism yet, but treatment can be incredibly helpful. Behavioral therapists and specialists can be very effective, especially when it comes to handling how to discipline or communicate with your child. There are strategies for at-home behavior training and schools that can cater to your child’s needs. Find out what the latest research is and see if it is right for your child. Ask your physician about medication, as it is certainly case by case, but can be helpful for some children. On the flip side, know that no child is the same. If you hear that so-and-so had a great experience with this certain CBT treatment but your child had no improvement, don’t lose hope. Your child is unique in his or her own way, and encouraging them can only lead to improvements in their relationships and your family. At home, you can find strategies to manage your child’s (possible) obsessions. It’s important to let your child know that not everyone has their same obsession, but you are always willing to listen to them. The child could also benefit from writing about it in a journal, videoing them as if they are an expert on a talk show, etc. Put boundaries on obsessions and use them as rewards for good behavior. For example, if your child does their chores and behaves well, they can get a new lizard (if that is something they love). When your child has a tantrum, remember that you cannot understand what is going on inside their head (see video below). Many times, unstructured activities and changes in routines can send your child into a fit. This is because children with ASD strongly prefer structure and have much more trouble understanding why something changes. Have headphones or a weighted blanket for your child when these times come, and let your child help you establish a new structured plan for the rest of the day.
3. Listen to Your Child
As referenced above, every child is different. Some children have more trouble with complex sentences, some need to be taught by showing, and some just need a hug when they are uncomfortable. The toughest thing about communicating with a child with autism is you probably cannot relate to what is going on. This video below can be helpful for attempting to empathize with your child. Chances are, your child isn’t just acting out to be rebellious, but because they are so over-stimulated that they don’t know how else to show you what’s happening. Children with ASD may find it harder to communicate what it is that’s inhibiting their sleep, and they are likely to exhibit sleep problems more frequently and continue longer than other children. Bedwetting, nightmares, and sleepwalking can be frustrating and scary for your child. Avoid disciplining them, and instead, try finding strategies to avoid these things. Encourage healthy sleep patterns, like not eating or drinking anything an hour before bed or listening to calm music as they fall asleep. Remind your child that nightmares are not real, and have a story or song that your child finds calming when they wake up from a scary dream. Listen to your child’s story, have a routine for comforting them, and consistently remind them that you are there and all is okay. A child with ASD may have a much more specific diet than other children. Many times it’s due to allergies or just resistance to certain foods. Remain hopeful and remember that incorporating other healthy foods can be done. You don’t have to change your entire family’s diet, but making consistent, healthy choices withyour child can save you time and frustration when it comes to meal time. Talk to your physician about options for your child’s specific needs.
What are some early warning signs?
Every child is different, and it is quite common for parents to worry about their child’s potential ASD in early childhood. A few signs of autism in babies are lack of babbling and communicating, not responding to their own name, little language or social skills, and poor eye contact. Later signs may include impaired ability to make friends, communicate with other children, engage in “pretend” play, inflexibility in routines and structure, and preoccupied focus on certain topics or activities. If you are concerned, contact a physician or specialist as soon as possible to insure the best care for your child.