After receiving an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, it can be overwhelming for the parents or caregivers of an autistic child to cope with the various challenges ASD may present. However, with the appropriate support structures and strategies in place, caring for an autistic child can become more manageable.
Support strategies for managing ASD
Many autistic people are likely to experience communication difficulties, especially difficulties with social communication and understanding other people. Autistic children are also easily frustrated and made upset by unexpected events. Often, these feelings of frustration lead to intense meltdowns, and parents can help alleviate such feelings and prevent breakdowns by having support strategies in place.
- Prepare for future events
Autistic children may become easily overwhelmed by minor changes in routine. Parents and children can benefit from preparation for the day’s or week’s events. Parents also need to ensure that structure and routine are upheld in the household so that the child knows exactly what to expect.
- Make use of visual aids
Visual aids can assist autistic children in improving their skills in processing information, understanding and using language, and becoming more interactive within their environments.
Visual aids can be used to communicate with autistic children to inform them of what is happening at present, what will happen during the day, and what will happen during the coming days. Examples of how to use visual aids include:
- Showing the child a picture of relatives who may visit
- Showing them photos of the dentist or doctor before a visit
- Creating a picture chart with the steps to follow when using the bathroom or getting dressed in the morning
Not only are visual aids helpful for communicating information to autistic children, but they also help ensure that autistic children are well-informed of daily events. When children are informed, the likelihood of intense meltdowns is significantly reduced.
- Avoid sensory overload
Sensory overload is commonly found in autistic children and is a contributing factor to meltdowns. Sensory overload means that autistic children may sometimes experience certain sounds, textures, tastes, lights, and sensations as painful and intolerable, which may lead to a meltdown.
Parents can try to prevent a sensory overload by identifying their child’s specific trigger(s) and reducing the number of triggering stimuli in the environment. It may be helpful to reduce loud noise and avoid bright lights.
- Ease children into public spaces
Trying to reduce noise and avoid bright lights is often impossible in public spaces like shopping malls or grocery stores. That is why it is essential to ease a child into visiting public spaces by starting with preparation using visual aids and very short visits. Once a child can manage a short trip, gradually increase the time of the visit. The same strategy can be used when visiting friends, family, or relatives.
Autistic children may develop an attachment to a particular item, for example, a toy or a blanket. It may help to bring this item along when going into public spaces because it gives the child a sense of familiarity and comfort, which may help keep the child calm for the duration of the trip.
- Plan ahead when eating at restaurants
Visiting a restaurant can be challenging for an autistic child. To make the outing manageable for a child, it may be helpful to do the following:
- Make a reservation at the restaurant ahead of time
- Visit restaurants during their quieter hours
- Request seating in a booth away from the play areas or bathrooms to reduce sensory stimulation
- Pre-order meals
- Request the bill before dessert to prevent the child from getting frustrated with waiting
Additionally, parents should request permission to bring the child’s favourite food along, as some autistic children have very specific dietary preferences.
- Try rewards charts
Some autistic children exhibit defiant behaviour, and, therefore, it is crucial to utilise strategies to encourage compliance. One strategy that can be used at home and at school to achieve cooperation is a rewards chart.
Also read: How to reward your kids the right way
Since many autistic children often have very particular interests, it is vital to ensure that the rewards chart is meaningful and appealing. For example, if a child has an intense obsession with a particular superhero, the rewards chart should incorporate that infatuation to gain a child’s interest and, consequently, compliance.
When trying to encourage compliance from autistic children, parents are advised to provide as much praise as necessary and to reduce such praise gradually as children exhibit increased cooperation.
- Take care of yourself
Lastly, parents are very often the primary caregivers of autistic children. To be able to give to others, your cup cannot be empty. It is, therefore, crucial that parents attend to their needs and mental wellbeing such that they are well-equipped to face the challenges that accompany caring for an autistic child.
Parents should make time for self-care and join support groups to draw social support to prevent feelings of isolation they sometimes experience.
Although the challenges are present, they do not make parenting any less rewarding. By implementing tips and tricks in your daily life, caring for an autistic child may become more manageable.
by Dr Jeanné Roux – educational psychologist