Parental support is very important for the development of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most parents are constantly on the lookout for any resource that can help with raising a child with autism. It might be surprising to know what a world of difference parents can make for their children when they are armed with the right information.
Here are 9 simple ideas on how to help children with ASD flourish
1.Be specific and concise with directions
For children with difficulty understanding language, instructions in simple terms are easier to follow. Direct and concise messages are hence more effective. Showing them a picture or a visual demonstration of the behavior you want to see, can also be helpful. For example, if your child is throwing food at the table, saying, “Be good at the table.” or ”Would you stop with that?” would be vague. Instead, saying, “Please eat your food.” would give them a clearer sense of direction. Concise instructions specify what is expected of them and what behaviour will not be accepted.
2.The ’First/then’ method
The ‘First/then’ method is used to present what’s needed to be done now (first) and what’s needed to be done next (then). You can do this in the form of writing, pictures or even an app. The idea is to use their favourite activity or toy to motivate them to complete the activity they are not so keen on doing.
You can say, “First finish your homework, then we’ll go to the park.” This simple phrase helps provide structure in their minds. It also encourages them to follow the directions at hand.
3.Sticking to a schedule
Children with an autism diagnosis usually prefer following a schedule. So, plan a daily schedule of routine tasks. You can also prepare a schedule or to-do-list on an AAC app such as Avaz. Incorporating pictures of the task can add an element of fun to it. In case of unavoidable changes, have a backup plan. For instance, if you got stuck in traffic for longer than expected, use the child’s favourite activity, story, or toy to redirect their attention.
4.Pay attention to sensory experiences
Many children with ASD have strong reactions to sensory experiences. They can be fascinated or be overwhelmed by certain noises, visuals, textures, etc. Pay attention to what triggers a negative reaction and what evokes a positive reaction. For instance, using noise-cancelling headphones in a noisy classroom can help prevent your child from feeling overwhelmed.
5.Creating safe spaces at home
Create safe spaces at home where your child can feel relaxed, secure and calm during a meltdown. A safe space is vital to their mental health. Don’t force entry into the safe space. Give the child the choice to enter the space. Make sure that the safe space does not have anything that can cause a sensory overload.
Providing children with choices gives them a sense of control over their world. However, limit the choices to three or four options depending on the child’s abilities. Keep in mind that too many choices can overwhelm the child.
Examples of choices are: What would you like to eat? Ice cream , pizza, or something else? Presenting ‘something else’ as a choice is important because it does not restrict the child to choose only among the options you have picked for them. For children with language difficulties, show images of the options on an AAC app such as Avaz to help them make choices with the tap of a button.
7.Consistency is Key
Children with ASD experience difficulty applying what they have learnt in one setting, to another one. For instance, your child may be learning sign language at school but may not use it at home. Creating consistency in your child’s environment helps reinforce learning. Caregivers can try incorporating exercises and simple techniques used by the speech therapist at home. Using AAC apps to extend speech therapy at home is a great way to hone their communication skills.
8.Join an autism support group
Joining a support group for those with ASD is a great way to meet other families who share similar challenges. Parents can share information, stories, advice and lean on each other for emotional support. Just being around others who share similar experiences can help parents feel that they are not alone in their struggles and foster a sense of community.
As a parent of a child with ASD, your day can be stressful. Most children with autism are sensitive to their parents’ anxieties, which intensifies their own reactions. Caregivers shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time from their hectic schedule to focus on themselves. Pursuing old hobbies, meditating, catching up with old friends, reading a novel etc. can be a great way to rejuvenate. Lastly, remember that it’s alright to ask for help, because a bit of support from those who care can go a long way in making your life easier.
Every child experiences different symptoms of varying severity, and there is no single rulebook for raising a child with autism. Hence, it’s important to take the time to understand each child and their specific needs to help them overcome their challenges.
Help a friend or family member diagnosed with autism get started on their journey by sharing this article with them! And if you have a tip that could help others, don’t hesitate to share in the comments down below!