Autism also referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) points to a broad array of conditions marked by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, verbal and non-verbal conditions. Signs of autism appear by the age of 2 or 3 and often it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. It mostly appears through early childhood and continues until adulthood.
A kid with autism might have difficulty in
- Learning and understanding new words – deficit in language comprehension and delay in learning to speak
- Making friends or fitting in the environment – not engaging in play with peers
- Dealing with crowds, loud noise, and bright lights
Other autism symptoms and signs include avoidance of eye contact, lack of empathy, minimized understanding of social cues, behavioural disturbances, intense focus on one topic, repetition of words and phrases, repetition of movements, self-abusive behaviours, sleep disturbances and social withdrawal.
In fact, they have trouble understanding how the world works. But not all children with ASD will experience all the symptoms listed.
Nonetheless, as autism is a spectrum disorder, different children with autism have their own strengths, which are different from others. They may be highly gifted in a specific field.
Parents can find it challenging to raise a child suffering from autism.
Some unusual behaviours may land parents in an embarrassing situation like inappropriate touching or invading other’s space, being too honest about someone’s appearance, flapping hands or spinning around and extreme display of affection.
Parents should not be ashamed or worried about their children. You are your child’s guide to the world. There was a notion earlier that autism was caused by “bad parenting”. Can you believe it? But thankfully researchers have helped disapprove this notion through various ground-breaking studies.
But what is it like to raise a child with autism? What should parents keep in mind to train such children so that they can face the world despite their challenges?
Here are some tips to help a child with autism thrive:
1) Firstly, learn about autism and become an expert on your child
The more you learn about Autism Spectrum Disorder, the more you can make decisions for your child. Involve yourself in your child’s day to day activities. This will help you find out what triggers your child’s behaviours and what you can do to elicit a positive response.
2) Be consistent and stick to a schedule
Some children may have issues applying particular behaviour when there is a change in the environment. Thus, creating consistency in your child’s environment is a must. Consider therapy for your child, observe what the therapist does and continue applying it at home. In the study, parents of children with ASD, aged 3-7 years, received behaviour intervention training, consisting of eleven 60-90-minute sessions with a therapist over 16 weeks. They learned strategies for coping with challenging behaviours related to autism. Follow-up surveys showed that children whose parents received the training made significantly greater improvements in their behaviour, compared with a group whose parents received education about autism.
In addition, explore the possibility of having therapy take place in more than one place to encourage your child to transfer what he or she has learned from one environment to another. Make a schedule for this as research has shown that autistic children are good at keeping up with a structured schedule.
3)Appreciate good behaviour
Positive reinforcement plays a major role in children with ASD. Praise them when they act appropriately or learn a new skill, being very specific about what behaviour they are being praised for. Look for other ways as well to reward them for good behaviour, such as giving them a sticker or letting them play with a favourite toy.
4) Have fun with them
Therapy is a part and parcel of their life. But it doesn’t just end there. Try to find ways to have fun together. What makes your child smile, laugh, and come out of her/his shell? Children usually enjoy activities that don’t look educational or therapeutic. There are tremendous benefits that result from your enjoyment of your child’s company and from your child’s enjoyment of spending unpressured time with you. Play is an essential part of learning for all children and shouldn’t feel like work.
5) Find non-verbal ways to connect with your child
Pay attention to the different sounds that they make, their facial expressions, and the gestures they use when they are hungry, thirsty, feel sleepy or want something. Try to understand why your child makes tantrums. When children with ASD act out, it’s often because you don’t understand the non-verbal cues that they are hinting at. Throwing a tantrum is their way of communicating that they are frustrated and want your attention.
6) Create a autism treatment plan which you can personally follow
A good treatment plan will:
- Keep the child’s interests in mind
- Follow a schedule that is predictable and achievable
- Teach tasks as a series of simple steps
- Actively engage your child’s attention in highly structured activities
- Provide regular reinforcement of behaviour
- Involve the parents
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
7) Find help and support
Join support groups. This will help you interact with other parents who have autistic children and help you broaden your perspective. Parents can share information, get advice, and lean on each other for emotional support. Just being around others in the same boat and sharing their experience can go a long way toward reducing the isolation many parents feel after receiving a child’s diagnosis.
Parents should understand that their children are trying hard to connect with the world, but they just don’t know how to, they don’t understand the feeling. They need someone to break into their world, to help them understand. Hence, parents, be that ‘someone’. Look at the world, the way they do.
Instead of seeing how your child is different from other children, accept them as they are. Celebrate every small goal that your child achieves and enjoy their unique peculiarities. Love your children unconditionally and accept them the way they are.
Raising a child with autism can give a parent a unique perspective, an appreciation of things that might otherwise be taken for granted with typical children
Early intervention can change the life of a child. There is no cure for autism, but the steps and measures you take can make a big difference. So, the earlier, the better.