Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, as it will be called in this post, has become a more and more common diagnosis in recent years in children. This can be a confusing, and sometimes scary diagnosis. For parents, this can turn your whole world upside down depending on where your child might fall on the spectrum. I am here to tell you it is okay to not have all the answers and that you are not alone in your overwhelming emotions.
Children with ASD have varying levels of functioning. Their level of functioning can include how they complete activities of daily living tasks, level of engagement in social settings, communication skills, and overall level of adjustment to situations that come up in day to day life. You might have heard someone say “ my child is autistic, but they are high functioning.” Well what does that mean? That could mean that their child is able to complete daily living tasks with limited prompts/assistance or no prompts/assistance at all. These tasks can include grooming, dressing, personal hygiene, etc. It could also mean that their child might struggle in some areas with connecting with others, but is still able to make friends. On the flip side of that, if a child with ASD is lower functioning, that could mean that they require more prompts/assistance to complete daily living tasks, need guidance in building social skills, struggle to make connections and maintain those connections, as well as communicating their needs appropriately.
All of that might still seem confusing and overwhelming, but here are a few tips that can help you and your child navigate daily life with ASD.
Tip #1: Have a Schedule.
Having a schedule allows your child to know what is happening next in their day. This schedule is best utilized when posted for you and your child to see. It is also helpful to reference back to the schedule when your child is struggling to transition from one thing to the next, such as TV time to bed time. Along with following a schedule, it is important to give your child reminders of when they are about to be moving onto something different. I like to start with a 10 minute warning, then 5 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 1 minute. Transitions can be difficult for children with ASD, but knowing how their day is laid out can help decrease the amount of tantrums or meltdowns throughout the day.
Tip #2: Be consistent
Consistency is key! It is important that your child knows how you will respond to various situations. This helps the child develop trust and it also helps you understand more of why your child might be responding the way they are. When you are consistent you are telling your child that you are someone safe they can turn to.
Tip #3: Create a Safe Environment
This is very important to have in your home. Your child is going to be constantly seeking safety in situations that come up throughout the day. The safe environment can look different for each child. Maybe that is sitting in a chair in a particular spot in a room, maybe it is on the floor with a blanket or stuffed animal, or maybe it is in their room on their bed. Wherever that safe space might be, allow them to make it how they envision it. Fill it with items that are calming to your child, so that it will be easier for them to regulate when there.
Tip #4: Reward Good Behavior
This is one of the most important tips. Rewarding good behavior is a must when working with children with ASD. This gives the child confidence and reassurance that they are meeting an expectation. It also helps the child understand that the behavior they are doing is appropriate. They are going to be more likely to repeat that good behavior moving forward. The reward does not always have to be a physical reward, rather it can be giving positive praise and encouragement. It is also important for the child to be able to observe you modeling the good behaviors.
Tips #5: Make Time to Have Fun
The fifth and final tip in this post is to have fun! I know that times can be challenging with your child, but making time to have fun helps your child step out of their comfort zone. There might be tantrums and meltdowns along the way, but know that with those challenging moments can come some of the most fun and rewarding ones. Having fun allows your child to learn how to express positive emotions by laughing, smiling, being playful and learning what it feels like to be happy.
You are not alone in your parenting journey. Having a child with ASD can be challenging. Know that there are people that are here to support you along the way. I hope you find these tips to be helpful and some that you can use in your own home with your child.