How to Support a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Up to 1 in 44 children are born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ASD presents a wide range of symptoms and affects every child differently. Still, most children with autism experience a combination of health problems and developmental disabilities.
In honor of April being Autism Awareness Month, we're highlighting some tips and tricks that parents can use to support children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
1) Remember that every child's diagnosis and experience are different
Learning that your child has autism spectrum disorder can be frightening. You might feel sad and upset, or like you did something wrong. All of these feelings are completely natural, but it's better to focus on the things you can change instead of those you can't.
Mary Elizabeth Jackson, the host of Special Needs TV, and a mother of two children with autism says it's important to remember that symptoms occur on a spectrum. "Autism is never black and white and many variables apply," Jackson said. "For example, if a child gets a proper early diagnosis and suitable therapies and help, they can overcome many of the challenges they have. Whereas if a child's symptoms are ignored, or take years to diagnose, it will be harder to manage."
Likewise, it's important to consider all of the factors that contribute to your child's well-being, including their diet, environment, and access to medical providers. By considering all of these aspects, you can ensure your child has the resources needed to thrive.
2) Make time to do research and ask questions
There's a grieving process that comes with an autism diagnosis. While it might be tempting to push these feelings away or ignore them, it's vital to face them head-on. "Parents need to allow themselves to feel," said Jackson. One way to make things easier is by learning about your child's condition.
"After receiving a diagnosis, the most important thing is to ask lots of questions, research everything you can find, and look for support," Jackson said. "It's a journey of growth for the parents and the family. The more information and knowledge you have, the better you can empower your child."
One of the best resources for information is your child's pediatrician. If you haven't already,AutismAction.org recommends asking the following questions:
What does my child's diagnosis mean?
If Autism occurs on a spectrum, where is my child?
What types of services or therapies might my child need?
My child has specific symptoms, who should I talk to?
Do you have any reading materials or resources you can recommend?
Jackson says that getting the answers to these questions allows you to go from feeling like a victim to feeling like you have some control.
"I know firsthand that you need to have an understanding of what's going on. Prepare yourself with knowledge and find allies who can offer support," Jackson added.
3) Build a support network
Speaking of allies, it's vital your child has a support network they can rely on. That's especially true if they're preparing to enroll in school. If your child already has a diagnosis, Jackson says to inform the school before starting.
"The team at your child's school will work with you to set up testing to see what accommodations your child needs. Make sure to communicate regularly and record all correspondence between you, the school, and any specialists involved. Ensure the team knows any therapies or things you
do at home that might help your child at school feel safer and be more successful."
Outside of school, there are various support groups for parents with autistic children. Some of the most well-known organizations include:
4) Create a safe environment at home
Young children, especially those under three years old, are especially curious. To reduce the risk of accidents or injuries, you may want to put up baby gates to protect them from certain areas of your home. Jackson also recommends installing alarms on doors and windows for little ones who might try to escape.
If your child experiences anxiety or meltdowns create a comfortable getaway where they can relax. "Set up a tent in a corner with soft lighting, a bean bag chair, and some sensory items," said Jackson. "This is a great way to help your child feel safe. They can decompress in their own space and retreat when they are overstimulated or afraid. Weighted blankets and vests are some other items that are wonderful for children to help them calm down, relax, or go to sleep."
Jackson also recommends keeping a schedule and using a visual calendar. "A visual calendar instills consistency and improves communication for non-verbal children. It may take some trial and error to see what works best, and you may have to make adjustments as your child grows."
5) Encourage your child to make friends
Many children with ASD want friends, but struggle in social situations. As a parent, it can be difficult knowing how to support them. Instead of worrying about making everything perfect, focus on the things you can control. For example, try to reduce triggers in social settings. If your child is easily startled by loud noises, schedule a play date somewhere that's quiet, like the library or a museum. Your child may have an easier time interacting when there's less sensory stimulation.
These are just a few of the ways that parents and caregivers can get involved and advocate for children with autism. A huge thank you to Mary Elizabeth Jackson for her insights and expertise.
If you have a child with autism and have questions about any of the products we carry, please contact our friendly Care Specialists by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (855) 855-1666.
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.