Mainstream parenting tips don't always cover how to best help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Specific behaviors-some mild and some more prominent-require a different type of attention or flexibility from parents and family members. In general, children with ASD will feature varying levels of the following two characteristics:
They struggle socially, possibly having difficulties communicating and interacting with others.
They repeat certain behaviors or show interest in limited subject matters and activities.
Some kids exhibit other symptoms, such as sleep and digestive (or elopement) problems, and sensitivity to light, sound, clothing or temperature.
But children with autism also have wonderful strengths. To start, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 44% of kids with ASD have "average to above average" intelligence. Children with autism love details and will remember them for months and months. They often excel in both the sciences and the arts, too.
If you're a parent raising a child with autism, the following twelve tips will help you do what's best for your child and understand their unique needs. The tips range from parenting best practices to home safety recommendations to keep your family happy and safe.
1. Focus on their strengths
An ASD diagnosis can feel overwhelming, but be sure to focus on your child and where they excel. Then, figure out how to help your kid overcome their weak points.
2. Pay attention to nonverbal cues
Your kid communicates all the time, often via nonverbal methods. Learn those cues and recognize when they alter. An abrupt change in behavior could indicate your child is worried about something, perhaps a change in a parent's schedule or a bully at school.
3. Set a schedule and stick to it
Because many kids with autism tend to focus on repetitive behaviors, they typically thrive with a regimented schedule. Plan on keeping consistent bedtimes and meals schedules, as well as having specific time for learning activities and playtime.
4. Model appropriate behavior
If you want to see good behavior, you have to model and reinforce it-the same as you would with any kid. Set an example with something simple, like holding hands and walking slowly in crowded stores, repeating the behavior regularly to establish a routine.
5. Remember to play
If your child will attend school, therapy and other autism-related activities, make sure they have time for free-form play. Also remember to play with your child, too, as playtime offers a chance to connect and build an emotional bond.
6. Ensure home safety
Your home contains all sorts of interesting items to active and curious children. Protect your child (and your peace of mind) by investing in keyless locks, alarms, motion sensors, organizational bins and outlet covers.
7. Purchase child safety accessories
Children with autism are prone to wandering, which could result in injuries, hypothermia and worse. Safeguard your child with a GPS tracker like the AngelSense (designed specifically for children with special needs) and an Alert Me Band. A GPS device will help you find your child if they wander off, and the Alert Me Band allows strangers to contact you to help get your child home safely.
8. Become their advocate
You know your kid better than anyone else, so become their advocate. Form a team of teachers, administrators, therapists and other individuals committed to helping your child so that your kid has the best chance at success.
9. Invest in therapy
Therapy not only helps your kid develop appropriate behaviors and overcome challenges, but it also helps you. Through therapy, you learn how to model, reinforce and discipline a child with special needs.
10. Find other parents of kids with autism
You can't care for a kid with autism alone. Seek out a community, both online and off. Share your knowledge, too. What you've learned through experience could help a parent who is just receiving the news that their child has ASD.
11. Accept financial assistance
Caring for a child with autism can get expensive. When parents or friends ask how they can help, be honest. Share that you could use some help paying for a therapy session, program or toy.
12. Consider respite care
The routine of caring for a child with special needs takes a toll. Take a break from the 24/7 caregiver role with respite care. Use it to enjoy a weekend with your partner, catch up with your other kids or retreat to a friend's house and binge-watch the final episodes of Gilmore Girls. Do something that refreshes and recharges your spirit.
Your child may have ASD, but it's far from being the of the world. They can lead vibrant lives - all it takes is some routine, some tools and a commitment to their intellectual, emotional and social growth.