Having a child with Autism impacts on various aspects of family lives including housekeeping, finances, emotional and mental health of parents, marital relationships, physical health of family members, limiting the response to the needs of other children within the family, poor sibling relationships, etc. All of this makes it a lot harder to be a parent and fulfill the needs of such a child since it adds a lot of stress to the family’s environment.
If you’ve recently learned that your child has autism spectrum disorder, you’re probably wondering and worrying about what comes next. No parent is ever prepared to hear that a child is anything other than happy and healthy, and an ASD diagnosis can be particularly frightening. You may be unsure about how to best help your child, or confused by conflicting treatment advice since ASD is an incurable, lifelong condition.
When you’re looking after a child with ASD, it’s also important to take care of yourself. Being emotionally strong allows you to be the best parent you can be to your child in need. These parenting tips can help by making life with an autistic child easier.
1. Learn about autism. The more you know about autism spectrum disorder, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions for your child. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in all treatment decisions.
2. Become an expert on your child. Figure out what triggers your kid’s challenging or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your child find stressful or frightening? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects your child, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing or modifying situations that cause difficulties.
3. Focus on the positive. Just like anyone else, children with autism spectrum disorder often respond well to positive reinforcement. That means when you praise them for the behaviors they’re doing well, it will make them (and you) feel good.
Be specific, so that they know exactly what you liked about their behavior. Find ways to reward them, either with extra playtime or a small prize like a sticker.
Also, as you would with anyone — on the spectrum or not — prize your child for who they are. As a parent, loving your child for who they are is key.
4. Accept your child, quirks and all. Rather than focusing on how your autistic child is different from other children and what he or she is “missing,” practice acceptance. Enjoy your kid’s special quirks, celebrate small successes, and stop comparing your child to others. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your child more than anything else.
5. Find nonverbal ways to connect. Connecting with a child with ASD can be challenging, but you don’t need to talk—or even touch—in order to communicate and bond. You communicate by the way you look at your child, by the tone of your voice, your body language – and possibly the way you touch your child. Your child is also communicating with you, even if he or she never speaks. You just need to learn the language.
6. Stay consistent and on schedule. People on the spectrum like routines. Make sure they get consistent guidance and interaction, so they can practice what they learn from therapy.
This can make learning new skills and behaviors easier, and help them apply their knowledge in different situations. Talk to their teachers and therapists and try to align on a consistent set of techniques and methods of interaction so you can bring what they’re learning home.
7. Put play on the schedule. Finding activities that seem like pure fun, and not more education or therapy, may help your child open up and connect with you.
8. Give it time. You’ll likely try a lot of different techniques, treatments, and approaches as you figure out what’s best for your child. Stay positive and try not to get discouraged if they don’t respond well to a particular method.
9. Take your child along for everyday activities. If your child’s behavior is unpredictable, you may feel like it’s easier not to expose them to certain situations. But when you take them on everyday errands like grocery shopping or a post office run, it may help them get used to the world around them.
10. Get support and Build a support system. Whether online or face-to-face, support from other families, professionals, and friends can be a big help. Create a village of friends and family who understand your child’s diagnosis. Friendships may be difficult, and your child will need support in maintaining those friendships. Seek out local groups and parent network organizations for families of children with autism. Support groups can be a good way to share advice and information and to meet other parents dealing with similar challenges. Ask your physician or child developmental specialist for referrals.
11. Make time for yourself and your relationships. Try to schedule regular dates with your partner and outings with friends. Keep up with the activities you enjoy.
12. Get help. Seek help if you or your partner is feeling persistently overwhelmed or depressed, or the stress of caring for a disabled child is affecting your relationship. Individual, marital, or family counseling can be helpful, too. Think about what might make your life a little easier, and ask for help. Your health care provider can help you find a qualified individual, couples, or family therapist.
13. Don’t give up. It’s impossible to predict the course of autism spectrum disorder. Don’t jump to conclusions about what life is going to be like for your child. Like everyone else, people with autism have an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities.
We hope these tips can help your parenting journey with a child with autism.