“Personal growth for children on the spectrum often happens in small steps over long periods of time,” Sam Farmer, autism advocate and author of A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, and Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens, tells Parentology. “Be patient, be strong, and celebrate your child’s progress regardless of how that progress happens.”
Here are some ways of helping your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Maintain a Routine
Consistency and routine are critical factors in helping a child with ASD. These kids will do best with a schedule that rarely varies. When their schedule does need to be altered, give them as much advance warning as possible.
Other places where order is helpful:
- Keep things in the same place at home.
- Stay in close contact with your child’s teachers to be aware of any events at school that require preparation. While most children eagerly look forward to changes in their school routine for parties and field trips, events like these will often cause problems for children with ASD.
- Work closely with their therapist to ensure you’re on the same page.
Be Aware of Sensory Stimulants
ASD kids often have heightened sensitivity to touch, sounds, taste, smell and light. Pay close attention to what’s unpleasant, as well as what’s enjoyable for your child.
Places like amusement parks and restaurants can be overwhelming to some ASD children. On the other hand, being around trains may bring delight. Why the difference between trains versus, say, a diner?
Dr. Amanda Bennett, a developmental pediatrician who directs the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote an article on the topic for the Autism Speaks blog. Her insight could serve as a springboard for parents trying to figure out the “where works” questions for parents..
“Trains certainly seem to be a popular topic for the children we see in our autism clinic,” she wrote. ” I see several probable reasons for the wide appeal among individuals on the autism spectrum – regardless of their ages.”
Bennett listed, “First, trains have wheels, and this will appeal to those whose sensory interests include watching objects spin. This is certainly common among children with autism. In fact, spending an extraordinary amount of time spinning and rotating toys is among the signs that a toddler may be at increased risk of going on to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD).”
Continuing, Bennett added, “Second, trains can be categorized into different models, types, sizes, etc. For some individuals with ASD, the ability to organize objects into categories is very appealing.”
And back to maintaining schedules, Bennet wrote, “Trains also come with schedules. This, too, appeals to many people with ASD and is in line with a need for predictability and the inclination to memorize and recite information. In fact, we’ve learned to tap into the strong appeal of schedules to help individuals with autism learn and participate in community activities.”
Summing things up, Bennett pointed to the ability for trains to become a lifelong interest.
Delivering High Fives
Positive reinforcement is just as crucial to an ASD kid as it is to other kids. Set your child up for successful experiences.
Autism-Help.org states on their website, “Positive reinforcement is generally the most effective behavior management strategy in dealing with challenging behaviors of children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. It can also be used to help autistic children to learn new behaviors, from life skills through to alternatives to repetitive behaviors.”
Farmer reiterates that sentiment. “Learn to view small steps forward as significant accomplishments and give your child high praise immediately afterward.”
He goes on to say, “Most importantly, do everything you can to position your child for future happiness and strong self-esteem.”
How Farmer has several suggestions on this front for parents:
- Steer your child towards pursuits you believe he’ll enjoy and at which he may become proficient.
- Refrain from disciplining your child for behaviors he cannot control.
- Keep yelling and screaming to a minimum.
Rewards for achievements and victories can be verbal praise, experiences the child enjoys, or even the simple act of placing a sticker on a goal chart.
Parents Deserve Gold Stars, Too
While a parent’s mission is to help their child, employing self-care is vital.
Parents need to take time for themselves and also take time out as a couple. Don’t skip date night. Finding reliable and trusted childcare is essential. Obstacles like these are where tips like the next one come in.
Join a support group where frustrations and helpful strategies can be shared with others facing similar challenges.
Keep a mantra and positive quotes handy for difficult times. One from Colin Zimbleman, PhD, that puts things in perspective: “Autism . . . offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that might otherwise pass us by.”
Helping Your Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Sources
Sam Farmer, autism advocate and author of A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, and Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens
Help Guide: Helping Your Child With Autism Thrive
Autism-Help.org: Positive Reinforcement and Autism
The Parent Cue: 7 Practical Tips for Raising a Child With Autism
Autism Speaks blog: What is it About Autism and Trains by Dr. Amanda Bennett