If you’re parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder, you know just how challenging it is. You may feel frustrated with tips and remedies that don’t work; you may question your capabilities as a parent; you may feel like giving up. But the important thing to realize is that autism is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes a lot of training to get to the finish line — the finish line being the parenting style that works for your kiddo.
If you recently learned that your child has autism (or suspect that he or she might), don’t wait to start trying out tactics to help them cope. At her Fountain Valley, California, pediatrics practice, Dr. Smita Tandon specializes in autism spectrum disorder and helps parents help their children. Here are five things she wants you to know about what you can do as a parent of an autistic child:
Few things contribute to autism tantrums like disorganization and disarray. Children with autism tend to do better when they have a structured routine or schedule, and it helps them apply what they’ve learned in one place to other places.
Most children with autism crave consistency, and as a parent, you can provide that: Enforce a strict bedtime and wake-up time, try to eat meals at the same times every day, set entertainment hours at home, and try to do things in a certain order. For example, when your kid arrives home from school, provide an after-school snack, start and finish homework, and then allow playtime for an hour.
Speaking of playtime, it’s important that your child has enough time to relax, unwind, and focus on activities that are enjoyable to him or her. Children with autism get stressed and anxious just like the rest of us, if not more so. Allott your child some time every day to engage in play in whatever way suits them — they may want to paint or draw, build with Legos, or throw a ball. Make an effort to pinpoint the activities that make your child happy, and then make those activities accessible.
Verbal communication isn’t always an option when you have a child with autism spectrum disorder. If your child becomes upset or uncomfortable, he or she may refuse to speak or feel unable to speak. Be aware and look out for nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions, hand gestures, body positioning, and sounds they make, such as huffing or clicking their tongue.
You can communicate back by the way you look at your child, by speaking with a certain tone of voice even when you know they won’t verbally respond, and by using hand gestures and body language.
You’re not going to enjoy everything your child does. This is true for all parents, not just parents of children with autism, but it is particularly true for the latter. You’ll find yourself perplexed and exasperated over your child’s tantrums and tendencies, but if you make an effort to understand your child’s quirks, you can minimize negative responses.
For example, some children with autism are extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli, such as light and odors. Make note of these things and accept them for what they are, and then learn how to deal with them. This will help both you and your child thrive.
The more you and your child get involved with the community, the better. And this doesn’t just mean getting involved with autism support groups. While autism-focused groups and activities are a great way for you to connect with parents in a similar boat, and for your kid to connect with other children similar to themselves, don’t limit yourself. Get involved with school activities, community groups, sports teams. Anything you can think of, give it a try — you never know what your child is going to respond positively to, and socializing can help you both.
To learn more about helping your child cope with autism, visit Dr. Tandon at her Fountain Valley, California office. Call our office at 714-410-1029 or request an appointment online.