Effectively Parenting an Autistic Child
World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd. This is a very significant day for the many parents of autistic children and the children themselves. Both children and parents sometimes feel largely marginalized due to ignorance, fear and minority treatment. Effectively parenting an autistic child can be taxing and difficult, but also extremely rewarding.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects approximately 1 in 59 children in the US alone. It is, however, difficult to immediately diagnose ASD because the signs, symptoms, and effects vary significantly from child to child. Early indicators usually surface by age 2 or 3, but some associated development delays may appear as early as 18 months old.
If your child is diagnosed with autism, research is key to effectively cater to their needs and early intervention can help them grow to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.
Autism in the home
The first step to catering to your child’s needs is identifying what those needs are. You are in the most ideal position as your child’s parent to identify these needs. Since you are already monitoring your child’s development, you should be able to identify any noticeable delays.
Here are a few quick tips to help you recognize these needs and how you can help treat your child’s autism:
- Observe and become an expert on your child’s behavior. What triggers their anger, frustration or repetitive behavior? Is it a sound, a smell, a sight or a touch? What makes them feel calm or happy? Is it a cuddle, the sound of a candy wrapper or a light back rub? Once you have an idea of what makes them emotionally unstable and what helps bring back stability, you can better guide them from one side to the next to help meet their emotional needs.
- Based on recommendations from your child’s doctor, experiment with various sensory-stimulating objects to identify which ones best help your child find their ‘happy place’. Your child may enjoy coloring, building, painting, touching different textures, looking at objects revolve or simply how objects move or connect. Observe how your child responds to these different stimuli to help cater to their need to be mentally stimulated.
- Create stability and structure in your child’s life as much as you can. When you are consistent with meals, bedtimes and other schedules, this may help your child better self-regulate, especially if you give them a heads-up before each change.
Autism through therapy
Intensive Applied Behavior Analysis
This method uses the power of positive reinforcement to stimulate your child’s learning through a repetitive breakdown of simple skills. It breaks simple tasks into small steps, doing small bits at a time, so your child doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
Children with ASD can benefit from a number of targeted therapy methods. Behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and play therapy that focus on your child’s specific symptoms have proven beneficial for many children with autism.
Autism is not the end
As a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to mentally separate your child’s behavior from your child themselves. We tend to treat the child as if they are how they behave. In order to succeed at parenting, it is important to note this subtle, but vital difference. Your aim should be to parent your child, while also treating the autism (symptoms) in your child.
Effectively parenting an autistic child is a challenge for this reason and more, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes you may get it right while other times you may feel like your emotions got the best of you. Be patient with yourself. This journey is a learning process for you as well.
With your patience, dedication, and love armed with knowledge, you and your child can thrive and live a quality life. Autism may mean a change in your perception of, but a new normal can grow to be just as beautiful and twice as fulfilling.