Many parents of children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) feel overwhelmed and stressed. And who can blame them? The fear that you might do more harm than good is terrifying! The good news is that studies show that parents who take an active role in their child’s treatment see far better results than those who rely on professionals alone. That’s right! Loving parents set kids with ASD on the fast track to becoming the best version of themselves. So what can a concerned parent do to help their child with ASD? As a psychologist and a special needs mom, I’d like to give you some tips on how you can best help your child on the spectrum.
Choosing an Intervention Program
Intervention for ASD can help minimize a child’s challenging behaviors while also boosting their skills. It’s this combination that propels them towards independence in adulthood. The earlier the intervention is started the better the results typically are. That’s why one of the most important things a parent of someone on the spectrum has to do is choose an intervention program for their child.
People with ASD are different. Some have average or even above-average intelligence whereas others have intellectual disabilities. Some are verbal. Others are not. Some have problems with sounds or lights while others enjoy these sorts of stimuli. That’s why the intervention you choose must be based on your child’s unique strengths and weaknesses. Don’t even consider some course or book that’s supposedly a miracle cure when, in reality, it was written for everyone on the spectrum. That kind of cookie-cutter approach is doomed to fail.
It’s also crucial that parents of children on the spectrum trust science. Intervention programs based on scientifically tested and proven approaches are best. You want to rely on approaches that have been scientifically proven to result in lasting results in individuals with autism. There are plenty of diets, vitamin supplements, herbal treatments, homeopathic supplements, gadgets, and books on the market nowadays that claim to reduce or even cure autism. Note, however, that the claims behind these products aren’t backed up by scientific studies. Demand to see the evidence before deciding on an intervention method or choosing any supplements at the like for your child. Also, don’t get discouraged if the intervention doesn’t bring results right away. Give it some time. If you’re still not seeing results after two or three months, try a different method or adjust your current approach.
Become Your Child’s Best Therapist
If your child is receiving help from professionals, but they’re not involving you heavily in the process, it’s unlikely that your child is receiving quality care. Studies indicate that a child on the spectrum learns more and maintains their newly developed skills better if their parents are actively involved in their therapy. Expert-given therapy isn’t enough!
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t trust experts. Professionals should always be the ones assessing your child’s strengths and weaknesses since this typically requires extensive training and experience. After the experts have assessed your child and designed an intervention plan for your child, you have two options: you can either carry out the intervention yourself or you can choose to help the experts with the therapy. Letting them take care of all the work isn’t an option if you want your child to see real results.
Whatever you choose, you’re going to need to be trained in implementing the program. Not surprisingly, studies show that kids with ASD have significantly better outcomes when their parents are knowledgeable regarding autism and the intervention methods available to them. Demand training from your service provider and actively seek out the latest scientific information on autism and intervention methods.
Don’t Isolate Your Child
It can be challenging to take your child with you to everyday errands like grocery shopping or the bank partly due to their behaviors and partly due to the constant mean looks and comments you get from people who just don’t get autism. Even so, exposing your child to the outside world does wonders for them in the long run. This will speed up their social and language development and helps them get used to new stimuli.
Keep a Consistent Schedule
Kids with ASD typically like routines so keep your daily schedule consistent. Make visual representations for every activity that they do daily such as eating breakfast or brushing their teeth. Consider making a large display for these visual aids on a wall or in a binder for your child. I’ve personally found that using a giant Velcro display of upcoming events and tasks works miracles. Knowing what’s going to happen next usually reduces anxiety and stress in children with autism.
Let Your Child Have Fun
Although intervention is crucial for your child’s development, don’t make their day a nonstop therapy session. It’s important to let them do what they want each day. Schedule time for them to be themselves. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of these activities. Give them opportunities to take breaks and engage in stimming behaviors. Consider joining them when they’re spinning around. Let your child choose if they want this playtime to be a social activity or if they would rather spend some quiet time alone.
Parenting a child with special needs can be challenging. It’s not surprising that depression and anxiety are far more common among special needs parents than parents of typically developing children. It’s OK to admit that you may need extra support. Seek support from other parents who know what you’re going through. The communities around special needs kids are amazingly loving and accepting! Lean on them or maybe consider helping others.
It’s also a good idea to see a psychologist. Or maybe what you need is an extra pair of hands around the house. Whatever you do, accept babysitting offers when you get them. Take some time off from being a parent to recharge your batteries. Read a book, have a date night with your partner, or take a walk in your neighborhood. You’ll be a better person for doing so. It’s ok to put yourself first every once in a while. This will make you a better parent as well.
Cherish Your Child
Your child may have problem behaviors or lack some skills. Still, they also have many unique abilities and gifts. Try to see them as more than autistic. Refuse to work with anyone who fails to see what a wonderful person your child is. Bad days will come. That much is inevitable. But it helps to be prepared. Sit down for a few minutes and write down all the great qualities your child has. Fold that paper and tuck it away. When bad times are upon you, pull out that sheet and read through your thoughts. Marvel at all the wonderful qualities your child has. These are the things that make it all worthwhile.
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