Autism can be challenging for parents and children alike. In some cases there may be communication barriers, atypical behavior and other roadblocks that can make daily life more complicated. Some symptoms may make even mundane tasks like going to the store or playing a boardgame potentially more involved. Everyone is different, so what works for one family might not be as effective for others, but these tips and resources hope to help those embarking on this journey to get started on the right track.
Have a routine the child can rely on. We are all creatures of habit, and most of us function best with routines, but autistic kids often rely on these routines to know what's coming and avoid feeling ambushed by the world. Routine can reduce anxiety and depression, offering a piece of stability in an otherwise uncertain world.
So it helps to keep that routine consistent. When changes are necessary, be patient with any initial reactions. Change is hard for all of us, but some kids may struggle to keep shock and fear at bay. Even small changes may be a great source of anxiety, so offer time and support to help with adapting to new ideas. But also, know that new routines can quickly replace old ones if you keep them up.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of talking about or for an autistic child when they’re nearby. It may be more efficient to talk for them or help to bridge communication challenges, but it can come off as condescending, and render the child voiceless.
Even if they’re not responding or directly interacting at the moment, they might still be listening. It’s important not to accidentally set someone on the periphery just because they aren’t active in the conversation. They may never speak for themselves, but it’s important to give them the opportunity to do so — every time.
Part of getting the child to reach out is first reaching out to them. Breakthrough strategies like the Son-Rise Program teach parents to step into their child’s world and participate in their unique behaviors. This creates a common ground that can help foster mutual acceptance and a foundation for social development and group play.
The barriers that may sometimes rise up between us can try a child’s patience as much as it can ours. A meltdown may be better seen as a reaction to keep the perspective that something has set the child on edge. This is often their way of saying, “I can’t take it anymore, and I don’t know how else to tell you.” Autistic people who challenge us are not trying to be difficult, and a little patience can go a long way.
It’s important to be patient with communication barriers as well. Autism can cause auditory processing disorder, or difficulties distinguishing and making sense of different sounds. People with autism may also experience delayed processing, which means they may need a moment to take in what was said. We can help by remembering that it's not necessary to repeat what was said so much as giving them space to let the words land.
Autism often causes issues with hyposensitivity and/or hypersensitivity, with the affected senses varying significantly between people. Some children crave stimulation, such as listening to the radio, rocking on a swing or curling up beneath a weighted blanket. Others might find those same activities overstimulating. Similarly, they might find certain fabrics impossible to wear or particular foods horrifying to chew. Pay attention to the child’s sensory needs and structure their days accordingly.
Studies have shown many people with autism respond well to music. Therapies that integrate music may improve communication pathways, helping to restructure the brain. Try singing questions or creating songs to go along with certain tasks. Some people might feel inclined to sing or hum along.
Every one of us is unique, with interests and talents that enrich who we are. An autistic child is no different. Help them express themselves. Maybe they enjoy cooking or have an eye for photography. They don’t have to be a savant to have ability. Whatever it is, foster it.
Living with an autistic child isn’t always easy, but with the challenges also come great rewards. This child is special and beautiful in their own way. Love them for who they are and let them shine. For more resources, check out Autism Society’s specialized guides or find direct support through local groups.