Raising a child with autism is not a walk in the park. Raising a child on its own is very difficult task and commitment. No matter how many books we read during the pregnancy stage and how prepared we may feel, being a parent is a lot of work. Now imagine being a parent to a child who is on the autism spectrum. I have a 4 year old son who is autistic and would like to share some tips I have found helpful in raising this little man.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not a single condition. It is a broad developmental disorder that includes a wide variety of challenges related to social skills, communication (both verbal and nonverbal), and behaviors. skills that come naturally in other kids such as speech and comprehension do not come naturally to children on the spectrum. Wondering why it’s known as a spectrum disorder? This is because there is a wide variation and severity of the symptoms that children with autism experience. Children can be diagnosed with autism no matter their race, gender, or economic status.
Signs of ASD
- little or no eye contact
- having difficulty with back and forth communication
- they may be obsessed with one topic or object
- may not understand facial expression, sometimes taking things too literal
- having trouble understanding another person’s point of view
- repetitive behaviors
- not playing with toys in a functional way
- love routines and may get very upset when changes are made to the routine
- more or less sensitive to sensory input (sound, light, texture or temperature)
- sleep and eating problems
Now apart from all these challenges, children with ASD have many strengths. They are able to learn things in detail. They remember information for a long period of time, have a photographic memory and may excel in math, science, music or art. ASD children can grow up to be the best medical specialists, engineers, artists and musicians. Check out this list of famous people who are on the autism spectrum.
Learn more about your child’s diagnosis
As a parent we may know that something is wrong about our child even before they get the diagnosis. I started to notice my son lagging behind the development chart when he was 9 months old. As a result I started to research more about why he wasn’t doing things other kids his age were already doing. I bumped into a lot of articles and research that seemed to point out that he was autistic. I brushed it off and only voiced out my concerns to the pediatrician when he turned 2 years and was not get saying even a single word. We went for an assessment and he was finally diagnosed. I had done some prior research so I was kind of prepared for the news. My husband on the other hand was crushed and hopeless.
For many parents this is the case when they receive that autism diagnosis. Truth is it hurts and feels like all your hopes and dreams for your child have been thrown away. Learning more about ASD and getting more information on the resources available in your country or city to help you and your child get best therapies available is very important. This research will be useful in understanding your child better and accepting their diagnosis.
Having patience is one attribute that will help you stay sane when you are raising an ASD child. They are not going to learn everything at the pace you would want them to. Sometimes they learn faster and sometimes it takes them time and a lot of effort on your part as the parent or care giver. I mean it took me 18 months to fully potty train my son. You can yell and even force them to do things but it will make the experience even worse. observe, wait and listen to them on whatever you do together and you will begin to notice that the child is really trying their best. All they need is your patience and empathy.
Learn more about your child’s interests
Every person has interests. An ASD child may have limited interests unlike all of us. These interests can sometimes look like obsessions. knowing what your child Is interested in is your door into their ASD world. You can use those interests to teach them a lot of things that they may be struggling with.
My son loves numbers, shapes, the alphabet and cars. This means we have limited activities to do with him but that did not stop me from using those few interests to teach him other things. He doesn’t know how to talk in full sentences yet but he can count up to 20. He does not only recite the alphabet he now can say words because we went on to teach him to label pictures using A is for apple all up to Z. Using shapes he has learned about colors (blue square, yellow circle, red heart), it’s as simple as that when you teach them using objects or activities that this like. Use toys to teach social skills and how to include others in play.
Have a routine
Establishing a routine brings peace into your life as a parent raising a child with autism. It limits the number of meltdowns you go through in a single day. Routines help our kids to know and anticipate what’s coming next. It’s therefore easier for them to move from one activity to another because they have already prepared mentally for it. Establish a bedtime routine, an eating routine or even an everyday routine of how you go about the day with them. One thing to note is that these routines don’t just happen you will have to repeat them day by day the same way at the same time. when changing the routine, you also don’t just pull the plug you will also have to change it in small phases and ease them into a new one.
Don’t compare your child
It’s every parent raising a child with autism wish for their child to be at the same level of development as their peers. Seeing your friend’s kids or your kid’s cousins looking like their advancing in their skills can leave you comparing your child to other kids. This is something you must refrain from doing. Even normal kids develop at different times and levels. Accepting that your child is different and will reach their milestones at their own time can save you and your family on unnecessary stress. Comparing your child can only cause you to put unnecessary pressure on your them. In some cases, it might even leave you feeling like you are doing a bad job at parenting. So be content and focus on your child only.
Take it one day at a time.
It’s common for parents especially soon after getting a diagnosis to just want to do everything at once. what you have to know is that this is a life long journey. Take time to rest and enjoy your family, don’t let your life revolve around therapies there are a lot of fun things to do with an ASD child. Don’t neglect your partner or spouse, unfortunately many marriages when raising a child with autism breakdown because all the focus ended up being given to the child.
Celebrate your child’s milestones even the small ones. The day my son put on his pants on his own I was ecstatic and spent the rest of the day in high spirits because though it might seem like a small thing to us it was a huge achievement. Relax, don’t stress about the small stuff especially those you can’t control. Always know you are doing a great job and your child appreciates it even when they don’t seem like they do.