Supporting Your Child with Autism

As the parent of a child with autism, life might not look exactly how you thought it would. Your child may have more challenges than you could have imagined for them. Sometimes you might feel helpless. But you’re not. There are many things parents can do to help their child with autism.

Path to improved well being

Here are some things you as a parent can do to support your child with autism and help them overcome their challenges.

  1. Love your child unconditionally. Don’t focus on how your child is different from other children, and don’t make comparisons. Instead, accept and love your child for who he or she is. Enjoy the things that make your child unique. Celebrate their small victories and take pride in their accomplishments. Your unconditional love is the most important thing you can give your child.
  2. Learn about autism. Learn as much as you can about autism spectrum disorder. This will help you understand more about your child’s behavior. Also learn about different treatments and therapies. This will help you make more educated decisions about your child’s care. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to be an active participant in your child’s treatment.
  3. Get to know your child’s quirks. Become an expert on your child. Figure out their quirks. What triggers their challenging behavior? What do they like or dislike? What nonverbal cues do they give when they are hungry, tired, or want something? If you know your child’s triggers and cues, you can figure out the motivation behind a tantrum or an unwanted behavior.
  4. Provide structure and consistency. Children with autism do best when they have a structured schedule and routine. They need to know what comes next in their day, from getting dressed, eating breakfast, going to school, therapy time, dinner time, and bed time. Set up a schedule for your child and stick as closely to it as possible. If there will be changes to the schedule, try to prepare your child in advance. Your child will also benefit from consistency wherever possible. It can be hard for them to learn a skill in therapy and apply it at home. Ask your child’s therapists what techniques they are using, and use those at home, too. It will help your child learn and make them feel more secure. Also remember to be consistent in how you deal with your child’s challenging behaviors. It helps them to know what to expect in as many areas of their life as possible.
  5. Make time for fun. When your child has autism, it can seem like their life is filled with education and therapy. But your child is still a child, and they need fun in their life. Pay attention to the things that make your child smile, laugh, or open up. Find ways to incorporate these things into your day. Play is an important part of learning for any child.
  6. Create a personalized treatment plan. There are many types of therapies and approaches to autism treatment. These can include play therapy, behavior therapy, speech-language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and more. It can be challenging to figure out what is best for your child. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests finding treatments that:
  • Build on your child’s interests.
  • Offer a predictable schedule.
  • Teach tasks as a series of simple steps.
  • Actively engage your child’s attention in highly structured activities.
  • Provide regular reinforcement of behavior.
  • Involve the parents.

No matter what therapies you choose, your child’s treatment plan should be tailored and personalized to fit his or her needs. Think about the skills or behaviors your child needs the most help with, and treat those first. If you’re not sure which direction to go, talk to your child’s doctor.

  1. Take advantage of services available to you. Talk with your child’s doctor to find out what resources are available. Contact the local health department or local autism advocacy groups for information on services they offer. Some federal and state laws make it possible for children with disabilities to get free or low-cost services. These can include free evaluations, different therapies, counseling, assisted technology devices, and other specialized services. Talk to as many people and organizations as you can. This will help you get all of the services for your child that are available to you.
  2. Be an advocate for your child. No one knows or loves your child more than you. So it is up to you to make sure they are getting the best possible care. Stand up for your child wherever you need to. If you don’t think they are getting the services they need or are entitled to, say something. Talk to your child’s doctors. Be open and honest about how you feel and what you think your child needs.
  3. Take care of yourself. In order to take the best possible care of your child, you have to take good care of yourself. Caring for a child with autism can be challenging, stressful, overwhelming, and exhausting. Sometimes you may feel like you need a break. This is normal. A break is a healthy way to focus on yourself and recharge your batteries. Try to take a few hours or even a day or two occasionally to give yourself space from what is causing you stress. This will help you be a better parent when you return to your child.
  4. Find support. Support can come from a variety of sources. Extended family members can help you out around the house if you need it. Friends can lend a listening ear so you can talk about things that are bothering you. Counseling is also a good idea if you need someone to talk to. You may also consider joining a support group. Sharing information and experiences with other people dealing with autism can be a great help. You can learn about services, get ideas, and feel a connection with other people who are in the same situation as you.

Things to consider

Remember that raising a child with autism is a process. You will probably try a lot of different therapies, treatments, parenting techniques, and approaches. Some of them will work. Other’s won’t. You will probably also encounter many different opinions on what’s best for your child. You know your child best, so trust your instincts. It may take some time, but you will figure out what’s best for your child.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What services are available to me and my child?
  • What kind of schedule would be good for my child?
  • What is the best treatment plan for my child?
  • What kinds of therapies would be most beneficial for my child right now?
  • How can I best be an advocate for my child?
  • How can I take care of myself while supporting my child?
  • Are there any local support groups I could join?

Resources

Autism Society, Living With Autism

CDC, Autism Spectrum Disorder