Helping Children with Autism – Some Simple Strategies and Parenting Tips
Posted by: Sue Atkins
When I start working with a new family I say that’s it rather like trying to unpick a huge ball of wool that’s got all tangled up, and my job is to help everyone gently untangle & unpick each knot …. one knot at a time ….over time.
So we started with friendships and moved onto bedtime routines – next week we’ll tackle computer time.
One way of helping parents I work with to relax around working with me is to make them aware that there are many things they can do to help their child with autism overcome their challenges, as often families feel helpless, exhausted and overwhelmed about where to start.
I really believe that it’s also important to make sure parents get the support they need. When parents are looking after a child with autism, taking care of themselves is not an act of selfishness—it’s a necessity. Being emotionally strong allows Mums & Dads to be the best parent they can be to their child in need.
So next week we’ll also be looking at ‘Me Time’ away from the kids and ‘We Time’ to make sure the parents relationship is strong and supportive of each other.
Here are a few parenting tips that can help making life with an autistic child easier.
If you’ve recently learned that your child has or might be on the autism spectrum, you’re probably wondering and worrying about what comes next. No parent is ever prepared to hear that their child is anything other than happy and healthy, and a diagnosis of autism can be particularly frightening, distressing and overwhelming.
You may be unsure about how to best help your child or confused by reading lots of conflicting treatment advice, or you may have been told that autism is an incurable, lifelong condition, leaving you concerned that nothing you do will make a difference.
While it is true that autism is not something a person simply “grows out of,” there are many treatments that can help children learn new skills and overcome a wide variety of developmental challenges. From free government services to in-home behavioural therapy and school-based programmes, assistance is available to meet your child’s special needs. With the right treatment plan, and a lot of love and support, your child can learn, grow, and thrive.
Don’t wait for a diagnosis
As the parent of a child with autism or related developmental delays, the best thing you can do is to start treatment right away. Seek help as soon as you suspect something’s wrong. Don’t wait to see if your child will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Don’t even wait for an official diagnosis. The earlier children with autism spectrum disorders get help, the greater their chance of treatment success. Early intervention is the most effective way to speed up your child’s development and reduce the symptoms of autism.
When your child has autism
Learn as much as you can about autism. The more you know about autism spectrum disorders, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions for your child. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in all treatment decisions.
Become an expert on your child. Figure out what triggers your child’s “bad” or disruptive behaviour by keeping a simple diary and notice what stresses them, upsets them, relaxes them, or makes them laugh. If you understand what affects your child, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing situations that cause difficulties.
Helping Children with Autism Tip 1:
Provide structure and safety
Learning all you can about autism and getting involved in treatment will go a long way towards helping your child. Additionally, the following tips will make daily home life easier for both you and your autistic child:
Tip 2 Be Consistent.
Children with autism have a hard time adapting what they’ve learned in one setting (such as the therapist’s office or at school) to others, including your home. So creating consistency in your child’s environment is the best way to reinforce and support their learning. Find out what your child’s therapists are doing and continue their techniques at home.
Explore the possibility of having their therapy take place in more than one place in order to encourage your child to transfer what he or she has learned from one environment to another. It’s also important to be consistent in the way you interact with your child and deal with challenging behaviours.
So today I asked my clients to write down individually on a divided piece of paper What Is Acceptable / What is Not Acceptable Behaviour so they can be consistent going forward this week at home and sing from the same song sheet to help their 9 year old.
Tip 3. Stick to a schedule.
Children with autism tend to do well when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. Again, this goes back to the consistency they both need and crave. Set up a simple routine for your child, with regular times for meals, therapy, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare your child for it in advance.
Tip 4. Reward good behaviour.
Positive reinforcement can go a long way with children with autism, so make an effort to “catch them doing something right. ” Praise them when they act appropriately or learn a new skill, being very specific about what behaviour they’re being praised for. Also look for other ways to reward them for good behaviour, such as giving them a sticker or letting them play with a favourite toy.
I introduced my simple idea of getting an ‘Easy’ Button from the stationers Staples to reinforce the positive. When a child does something right – they run over and press the button and it goes off and says ‘ That Was Easy!’ and it makes them laugh and relax and is a positive auditory anchor which reinforces the behaviour you want to see more of.
Read more about my Easy Button Technique here
Tip 5 Create a home safety zone.
Create a private, safe, special space in your home where your child can relax, feel secure, and be safe. This will involve organising and setting boundaries in ways your child can understand, so visual cues can be helpful – using coloured cushions, pictures, or cordoning off their area to make it special to them.
These are just some very simple ways to begin to make some small changes, that over time, will make a big difference in the happiness and atmosphere in your home.
Tomorrow I’ll be giving you some more tips – so look out for them and please feel free to contribute your ideas to help each other.