If you're a parent of an autistic child, you've likely spent much of your time trying to figure out how best to support and nurture your child.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some general strategies that can help all kids on the autism spectrum - and their parents.
This guide will cover some tips for parenting an autistic child and offer resources for finding more information and support from local organizations like the Lighthouse Autism Center.
Offer structure and routine
Routines are essential for autistic children. They can help with coping with change, feeling more secure, and being confident and relaxed. For example, if your child always eats breakfast at the same time every morning, they'll feel good about starting the day calmly.
If you have trouble coming up with routines that work for your family's needs and situation (e.g., if you're always running late), many online resources offer advice on creating healthy routines for kids with autism.
Use Visual Tools and a Planner
A visual schedule is an easy way to keep your child on track. You can use pictures or words to show what should happen at different times of day and when you need to do something else first before working on that activity.
For example, if your child needs to brush their teeth after breakfast, draw a picture of the toothbrush and one of a cereal bowl. Then stick them down in the correct order, so they can see what comes next in their routine.
Try Sensory Tools for Self-Soothing
Sensory tools are very helpful for children on the autism spectrum, especially ones who have sensory sensitivities. They help children regulate their emotions and connect with their environment.
Examples of sensory tools include:
- Fidget toys (such as a squishy ball or something with different textures)
- Soft blankets or clothes to cuddle up in while watching TV or reading a book
- Something they can chew on (like bubble gum)
Support Social Development
It's important to ensure your child has ample opportunities to socialize with other children and adults. Try finding playgroups, camps, or other organized activities for your child that will help them develop friendships with other kids their age.
You may also want to consider getting a pet. Kids who struggle communicating with others often find that they can share their thoughts and feelings freely with an animal.
Practice Calm Communication
To help your child learn to communicate, you will need to be calm and patient. Be prepared for tantrums and meltdowns, which may not be under your control.
To help your child learn how to communicate with you calmly, use a quiet tone of voice, a gentle facial expression, and body language that is not too rigid or tense (remembering that children with autism often have trouble reading other people's non-verbal cues).
Keep Things Positive
If you're like most parents, you might find yourself getting frustrated from time to time with your child's behavior. It can be hard not to blame the child for their actions or get angry when they don't respond as we think they should.
But remember, children on the autism spectrum don't understand what is expected of them at all times because they have problems processing information in certain situations and with certain people. They will often act out if they feel overwhelmed or stressed in any way—even if it seems like nothing is wrong.
So when you feel you’re getting upset, take deep breaths instead of yelling at your child or blaming them for something that happened earlier in the day. Try to see things through their eyes so that you can understand why they did what they did (and maybe try using different words next time).
As we've seen, parenting a child on the autism spectrum is different from parenting neurotypical children. The most important thing is to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed by your child's needs—which will require some planning on your part.
You should identify areas of difficulty for your child (like listening skills or tantrums) and work on them together. In addition, try using visual tools such as checklists and calendars to help manage daily activities so that everyone feels more in control of what's going on around them at any given time.
If you're the parent of a child with autism, you can find more information and support through local autism organizations.
These groups can provide parents with services such as:
- Information about community resources
- Support groups for parents
- Information about local service providers
- Information about local events