Finding out a child has autism is life-changing, but the good news is that research has shown that even if a child has autism, his parents can still have a strong bond with him and can even fare well emotionally. Although parents of children with autism are more likely to report ‘poor or fair’ emotional and mental health as compared to other parents, chances are they’ll also show strengths that other parents don’t have.
One thing you should know about autism, is that it tends to begin before age 3. Pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) lead to severe difficulties in terms of communication and social interaction. On the spectrum, these difficulties are known to range from mild to severe. Parents of children with autism know how badly this developmental disorder can disrupt every other aspect of their lives.
If your child has autism, his disorder may impact your career aspirations, relationships and even your physical and emotional health. As you tackle the special challenges posed by parenting such a child, follow the tips mentioned below to be able to receive the multiple joys of parenting a child with autism:
7 Don’t Overlook Your Own Emotional Health
Just about every parent out there has issues that, if not examined and resolved, will interfere in their ability to assist their child in experiencing positive development. When it comes to parents with children who have autism, the most overwhelming issue is that of dealing with the pain of losing and mourning the child they had long been ‘fantasizing’ about.
Like any other parent, you obviously have fantasies that may not get fulfilled, like, “I wanted to spend the evenings playing basketball with my son” or “I hoped my daughter would grow up to become a ballerina”. The expectations you have long held for your precious one, including those of college, marriage and even procreation, may be out of the question.
Such issues may lead you to think of the possibility that your child will be dependent on you for a very long time, if not for his entire life. With that, there may be thoughts of, “What will happen when I’m no longer able to look after them?” Such thoughts lead to grief, thereby making it harder for you to keep up with your child’s issues.
Work through your emotional reactions
Instead of launching into a knowledge acquisition phase and ignoring your own feelings, it’s necessary for you to take care of your own emotional well-being too. This way, you will have the energy and the clear mind required to help your child.
In order to guide the development of your child with autism, it’s of utmost importance for you to work through your own emotional reactions first. If need be, it is recommended for you to seek professional help as well so you can devote yourself to your little one.
6 Acquire All the Knowledge that You Can About Autism
A child can’t ‘catch’ autism – he either has it or he doesn’t. Research says that about one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is known to encompass several related disorders like Asperger’s syndrome.
The one thing that you need to know about these complex developmental disabilities is that these tend to affect the overall development of a child’s communication skills, behavior and social skills. By learning all you can about autism, you will be in a better position to assist your child and help him with the challenges this disorder poses for him.
Autism can easily be detected during a child’s formative years. For this reason, experts believe that early diagnosis, intervention and proper treatment can assist in making it possible for young children with autism to develop to their full potential. The knowledge that you acquire will go a long way in terms of helping your child function on a day-to-day basis.
Learn about the things that you can and cannot control
Although your child is born with a set of genes that he will have for life, this in no way means that his future is foretold. The environment that you give to your child will shape the power of his individual genes. For this reason, it is vital for you to give him a nourishing and supportive environment.
This way, you will be able to give him just what he needs in order to grow, develop and even prosper. If anything, both you and your autistic child will be able to benefit from such a loving environment.
5 You Need to Stay Consistent
For children with autism, adapting what they’ve learnt in a single session (such as at school or the therapist’s office) to other settings (like that at home) can be difficult. For instance, while your child may use sign language to communicate at school, he may not do so at home. This is why learning needs to be reinforced upon the child, which is easily possible by creating consistency in his environment.
By maintaining consistency in your child’s life, you’ll be in the position to help him maintain a lifestyle without too many changes to conform to. Maintaining consistency in your child’s environment is highly recommended, acquire information about what your child’s therapists are doing and then continue using their techniques at home.
In order to help your child transfer his knowledge from one environment to the other, you should also consider the possibility of having therapy sessions take place in more than one location. Apart from that, you should also maintain consistency in the way you interact with him and deal with challenging behavior.
You need to stick to a schedule
Children with autism do best when their parents formulate a well-structured schedule or routine. This is obviously in line with their need and craving for consistency in life. For this reason, it’s highly recommended for you to fix a schedule for your child with regular times for therapy, school, meals and bedtime. During this routine, disruptions should be kept to a minimum. Also, you will need to prepare your child in advance for any unavoidable schedule changes that may take place.
4 Let Your Child Lead
You need one of the most essential parenting skills to be able to join your child with autism in his world – imitating and following. What this means is that you shouldn’t make demands, shouldn’t ask him to perform (for instance, “What does a cat say?”) and refrain from trying to direct the play. Yes, it’s going to sound fairly simple at first, but rest-assured that it isn’t.
It’s natural for parents to want to feel proud of what their child knows, sometimes by showing off in front of others by asking their child to do things so others can see what a smart child they are. But the thing with most kids is that they don’t like to be drilled – and if you keep doing this with your autistic child, there is a good chance that he will end up withdrawing or throwing a tantrum.
However, when you participate in your child’s world, you’ll make him feel treasured. Of course you want to get tickled by your little one’s responses to your questions, but if you expect too much of this, it may completely backfire on you. Instead, join in and talk to him about the things you both are doing (for instance, “You like the sound of this block banging on the table.”)
Special interests matter
Most children who have autism have special interests. Although you may want to distract your child from his special interest, it’s best for you to use it to achieve extended periods of bonding and engagement with your little one.
3 Interact with Your Child at His Physical and Developmental Level
Each time you talk to your little one, set his limits or give him directions, it’s highly recommended for you to do it in a way that will be meaningful for him. In order to make sure that he can see your face as you talk to him, squat down and make him face you. To get your point across, use the words, “look at me” to cue your child each time before starting to speak.
While you’re at it, it’s highly recommended for you to bear in mind that eye contact isn’t really an appropriate expectation of some children with autism. While talking to your child, it’s also highly recommended for you to do so at his developmental level. If he is an infant, you should only use simple one to two word phrases.
Also, keep your commands simple, and use the same words needed each time you speak. If possible, you should also consider using visual cues, but if you do so, it’s best for you to keep an eye out for signals that your child doesn’t need them anymore. With that, you should also put in an effort to learn about his individual ways of learning and make sure that you respect them while interacting with him.
Don’t change the words when asking him a question
To prevent your child from getting confused, it’s vital for you to refrain from asking a question and then changing the words to ask the same thing. This is because once you ask him a question, he will be trying to process its answer, and your second question is just going to confuse him.
2 A Strong Social Network is Much-needed
Parenting a child who suffers from a chronic illness doesn’t come easy. If anything, the experience is emotionally draining and may impact every part of your being. However, what may bring you down regarding the day-to-day care of your child with autism is the lack of essential social interaction and communication between him and you.
Also, ensuring that he receives all the help he needs can be a bit problematic as well depending on the support services available in your area. Apart from that, as a parent, you will obviously have ongoing worries with regarding to his long-term well-being and prognosis etc. For reasons such as these, it is necessary for you to find a strong social support network not just for yourself, but your child too.
When it comes to gathering your support network, you should basically be focused on knowing ahead of time who you can call to acquire different types of support (and even in emergencies). This may typically include:
Social – A close friend or a colleague that you really like and enjoy hanging out with; someone who can cheer you up when you are depressed
Emotional support – A close family member or friend who you trust and share your personal feelings and concerns with
Practical support – A close friend or neighbor who you can trust during emergencies and other times of need
Informational – Your child’s teachers, doctors, caregivers or therapists who you can seek advice from in terms of major life decisions for your child
Consider local groups
Apart from this support network, it’s also recommended for you to seek out local parent network organizations for families of autistic children and local groups focused on parents with children who have autism. You should also join online forums and chat groups focused on the same.
1 Get Your Family to Learn About Autism
Most moms of children with autism talk about feeling isolated. This is because once their child gets diagnosed with a PPD, their family members supposedly stop asking about the child and even go so far as leaving him out of family gatherings and birthday parties. As all of their attention starts to get focused on the child with autism, their spouses and other children start feeling lonely, stressed and at times even angry.
Although all of these feelings are 100% natural, it’s totally possible for such women to help their family members cope by educating them about the child’s specific needs and autism at large. Research shows that helping family members learn about autism and how the symptoms can be effectively managed has the potential to reduce family stress and improve the functioning of the child with autism.
Socialize with families who have a child with autism
With that, you need to accept the fact that some families will require far more outside assistance than others depending on their internal functioning, financial situation and established support systems. But the one thing for sure is that the effort you put into helping your family learn about autism is totally going to be worth it in the long run.
In addition to educating your family on autism, you should plan outings with other families who have a child with autism. There are plenty of families out there who share your daily challenges and concerns. Talking openly with other such families will assist you in acquiring new insight and you’ll be able to learn about better ways of coping.