Children with autism offer their parents and caregivers the unique opportunity to experience the world in new, sometimes eye-opening ways. However, raising children with this condition requires special skills.
Mother nature didn’t endow those who give birth to such youth with magical powers — you’ll have to learn as you go. Knowledge is power. Please keep these nine important tips for parents of children with autism in mind as you navigate your way.
1. Every Child Is Unique
Every child is a unique creation regardless of whether they have a diagnosis. Autism occurs on a spectrum, impacting each patient differently. For example, those with Asperger’s syndrome may communicate with others and perform well in school. However, they might struggle in complex social situations and subtle forms of communication like sarcasm and body language.
Other children exhibit differences in sensory processing. For example, one child might display extreme responses to loud noises like sirens, rocking and covering their ears. However, the same youth may pay little attention to things others readily notice, like the pain of a bee sting.
Some children on the autism spectrum talk as clearly as you and me, while others remain nonverbal. One child with the condition may shun sweaters as too scratchy while the next refuses to remove their shoes, even in the house. All of them, however, require and deserve unconditional love.
2. Consistency Matters
Many children with autism struggle with applying skills learned in one arena to another. For example, they may use sign language to communicate with their therapist but revert to whatever method they previously used to get your attention when back at home.
This tip becomes critical when you co-parent. Please do your best to keep procedures consistent. For example, trouble can erupt if one parent allows the child to raid the kitchen for snacks with abandon while the other expects them to ask before eating. Even minor details, like where your child should put their toys when they finish playing with them, can cause undue stress if it differs from home to home.
3. Stick to a Schedule
Likewise, children with autism do best with a fixed, structured schedule. You could encounter behavioral issues if one parent eats at 5 p.m., but the other doesn’t sit down until 8 p.m.
Try to minimize disruptions to your child’s routine. Provide ample time for transitions between different activities and go slowly when introducing them to new siblings and partners.
4. Focus on Reward
Punishments aren’t the ideal way to modify the behavior of any child. However, they can backfire if your little one has autism because they genuinely might not understand the connection between their actions and consequences.
Research indicates that young children respond best to simpler, rewarding actions than negative ones. That’s because their cerebral cortex isn’t yet developed enough to learn from their mistakes. However, they quickly react to positive rewards, repeating the same behavior that earned them a treat.
5. Create a Safe Space
Children with autism sometimes misbehave when their senses become overloaded. They may melt down and tantrum, posing a danger to themselves and others.
A safe sensory space varies from child to child. It might take the form of a blanket over a table or a bed tent. The idea is to incorporate low lighting and comfortable seating. An aromatherapy diffuser can help with annoying smells and pose less danger than candles with open flames. Keep the space quiet by using fabrics to block noise, perhaps even sound-proofing a room if you live in a noisy location, such as next to train tracks.
6. Practice Nonverbal Communication
Many children with autism have limited verbal communication skills. In such cases, practice nonverbal communication. For example, many parents succeed with adapted sign language that may differ from traditional ASL but let them interpret what their child needs with greater efficiency.
Remember that your child might have trouble reading your body language, misinterpreting your hands-on-hips stance as anger toward them. Practice mindfulness to become aware of how you present yourself and avoid gestures to which your little one displays an adverse response.
7. Network With Other Parents
Being the parent of a child with autism can feel lonely. Fortunately, technology makes it easier to connect with others in your situation than ever.
A quick Google search reveals online support boards for parents of children with autism. Your family physician is also a fabulous resource and may know of in-person groups near you.
8. Shore Up Your Finances
It isn’t fair, but raising a child with autism is an expensive proposition in the United States. Fully two-thirds of bankruptcies arise from medical bills, either the debt itself or the time spent away from work caring for your little one.
Therefore, do everything possible to shore up your finances. Even if you feel secure in your job, it’s wise to start a side hustle to have a secondary income stream to fall back on — just in case. Look for ways to slash expenses and automate your savings by having your employer split your paycheck, stowing at least a little away every pay period.
9. Give Yourself a Break
Parenting a child with autism isn’t always easy or simple. You’re human, and caregiver burnout is real. Please give yourself a break now and then.
If you’re partnered, take turns carrying the primary responsibility of watching your little one. Solo parents may try to find a reliable sitter who their child trusts. At a minimum, they should have completed a babysitting course, and it helps if they have training working with children with special needs.
Tips for Parents of Children With Autism
Raising a child with autism requires patience and the right approach. Your little one is unique, and so is your experience.
However, you can prepare yourself with knowledge. Consider the nine tips above for parents of children with autism and enjoy your little one’s early years.