As a teacher I work with autistic students every day. I see the struggles that these children and their families face so I want to share some thoughts and insights on supporting children with autism. This article has been written with a Clinical Psychologist (as well as Darth Vader) to ensure that accurate information is conveyed. I hope that you get some useful ideas and insights.
What is Austism?
“Autism can’t define me. I define Autism.” – Kerry Magro
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), denotes a wide range of conditions involved tasks with repetitive behaviours, social skills, speech, and nonverbal communication. This condition, according to the Center for Disease Control, affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today.
Autism is disposed of by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Since the condition is a spectrum disorder, individuals affected with autism have a different set of strengths and challenges. The manners in which the affected people with autism learn, think and problem-solve varies from highly skilled to severely challenged. Most people with autism may need significant support in their daily lives, while others may require less support and, sometimes live entirely independently.
Signs of Autism in Children
“I might hit developmental and societal milestones in a different order than my peers, but I am able to accomplish these small victories on my own time.” – Haley Moss
There is no particular cause of ASD and signs can be very slight or very severe.
Some children with this condition start showing signs as early as a few months old. Whereas others may have normal growth for the first few months or years of their lives and later showing symptoms.
The signs for ASD are very wide-ranging. There may be very noticeable issues in some people, while others there might not. The major problem is differences in social skills, behaviour, and communication compared with people who are not on the autism spectrum.
Autism can also be accompanied by medical issues, such as gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders or seizures as well as mental health challenges such as attention issues, anxiety, and depression.
A child with Autism has difficulty relating to other children. The most common signs are the problems with social skills. A child might like to have closeness with others but not know how to express this.
A child with ASD might display some social symptoms by the time he or she is around 9 months old. The signs may include the following:
• Inability to respond to their name during their first birthday
• Rejection or avoidance of physical contact
• Losing interest in playing, talking and sharing with other people
• Avoidance of eye contact
• Prefer to be alone
• They never like to be comforted while getting upset
• Inability to stretch out his/ her arms to be picked up.
• They never understand their emotions or other people’s emotions
Children with autism behave in uncommon ways. Examples of their behaviours may include:
• Persistent moving and hyper behaviour
• A short attention span
• Fastidious eating habits
• Lack of coordination
• Sensitive to touch, sound and light
• Acting aggressively with themselves and others
• Acting without thinking.
Some children with autism spectrum disorders don’t talk at all, while some develop language skills during infancy but then lose them later and some kids start talking later in life. Some problems with communication are:
• Delayed speech
• Problems with pronouns
• Not recognizing joking
Tips to support children with Autism
I recently read a fantastic book by a mother who has two children with autism. Her name is Nadu Dove and her book is called “Feeling Our Way: or ‘Help My Kid is on the Spectrum'”. She has reflected on her experience and I was able to gain lots of tips to support autistic kids, which I want to share with you.
You have probably spent a lot of time thinking about your child’s future. Try not to worry about the future- there is enough to be getting on with today, so try not to stress. Aside from medical care and therapies you can line up simple ways of supporting your child, and these are:
- It’s ok to ask a professional for a second or third opinion on something. Don’t be afraid to ask around and remember that nobody knows everything.
- There are lots of emotions to handle- feel them and then let them go. Focus positively. Like other people, children with autism respond well to positive reinforcement. If you praise them for the behaviors they are doing well, they will feel good. Also, look for ways to recompense your child.
- Refuse to allow Autism to be a stigma. Many wonderful contributors to the human advancement have had ASD. Be proud, ASD can be a gift. If everyone thought the same way, how could we imagine all the possibilities humans are capable of achieving?
- Being unique is great. It brings a wonderfully rich tapestry to humanity. Different sizes, colours, beliefs, shapes, brain-processing systems. We are all valid.
Keep your kid in the loop and discuss with them in an appropriate way for their age that their uniqueness has a label. Answer their questions honestly and saying “I don’t know yet” is absolutely fine.
- Choose your battles- some battles need to be fought and won; others need to be recognized and planned for strategically to take on another time. Try to learn to save energy by selecting when, where and how to fight carefully.
- For fussy dressers it’s no use trying to replace your kid’s favourite clothes that have been lost or worn out- I’m sure the shops will be out of stock or they will appear too new looking. Instead, if there is a definite preferred item of clothing that they are attached to, quickly purchase another two so that three can be rotated. That way they can be equally comfortable and there will always be one available.
- Schedule playtime. Look for activities that appear like pure fun, and not more therapy or education may assist your child to connect with you.
- Try to find your child’s fascinations fascinating- look at their intense interests with intrigue. Sharing these fascinations will encourage understanding and acceptance.
- Remember to celebrate the small things- they are not that small and can be fantastic achievements!
- Walk in their shoes. Imagine if you couldn’t communicate precisely how you felt and explain what was annoying you. Imagine if everything you encountered was brighter and louder and there was great uncertainty in all you experienced. Placing yourself in your child’s position will help you understand their perspective.
Hugs can help sometimes… This is contrary to common belief, but many autistic kids actually like affection and enjoy hugs. Make sure you are clear and ask if your child would like a hug. Hugs can help calm a child during a meltdown if delivered firmly by someone close. Using a quilt can help provide a calming cocoon in the stressful situation.
- Try to learn to read the warning signs and then use diversion tactics as soon as you can when you see a meltdown could be on its way.
- Take your child along with you for some activities. Taking your child on everyday errands like shopping or a post office run may help them used to the world around them.
- Some days will be harder than others. If you’re having a bad day remember it will pass and you’ll move on. If you’re having a great day- enjoy it!
- Write a list of all your kid’s strengths and put it on display where everyone can see it. This list can include things you might think of as small, such as lines his trains up exactly in a straight line. As long as they are truthful points, it doesn’t matter what they are.
- Just because a strategy works for one child with ASD doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone. Have a go, then try some more. If that particular strategy doesn’t work, try something else.
- Try to allow lots of extra time to get to places and accept that you will be late occasionally. Avoid thinking “we have to leave right now, otherwise we’ll be late” as that can give you unwanted pressure.
- Your child, just like all children, has a right to access and enjoy a quality education. Ensure school staff are aware of your child’s special needs and ensure that you are comfortable with staff being able to adapt their practice to ensure that your child has access to a wide range of activities they can enjoy.
- Be consistent: children on the spectrum like routines. Ensure your child get consistent guidance and interaction, in order to practice what they acquire from therapy.
Your child’s meltdowns will normally last longer when there are loud, upset or irritated voices. Pretend (as you may need to actually pretend when you face a major breakdown) to feel very calm, light and soothing and try to pass this feeling on to your child. Try to avoid having a meltdown at the same time.
- Give more time. Stay positive and never get dejected if your child doesn’t respond well to a certain method.
- Remember that your child’s challenging behavior is not them being naughty. It’s all about communication and them trying to explain something.
- Get support. Getting support from other families, friends and professionals can be a big help. Sharing of information and advice from support groups is of good. Counseling from Individual, family or marital can be of help too.
- Remember that you and your child are AMAZING! Refuse to have a focus on what they can’t do and what you think you’re not doing right. Instead focus on what your child can do.
Some Insights from a Parent
This fantastic TEDx talk by author Guy Shahar sheds insight into the positive aspects of autism that should be cherished and celebrated. He is a father of an autistic boy and proposes a very different take on how to view autism. It’s a powerful talk and I highly recommend a watch.
“Everyone has a mountain to climb and autism has not been my mountain, it has been my opportunity for victory.” – Rachel Barcellona
I hope that you enjoyed reading this article and you found some useful ideas from Darth Vader himself!
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts regarding this article, it would be fantastic if you could share them in the comments box below and I will be sure to get back to you. I am sure that there will be others thinking the same thing as you, so please share your ideas.