A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in a child is often difficult for parents and the extended family to accept. However, life with an autistic child does not always entail hardship and stress. Celebrating every accomplishment, big or small, loving unconditionally, exercising patience, and making a consistent effort will make a difference.
Studies indicate that autism has its origins in early brain development. Each case of autism is unique, requiring treatment and therapy that is tailored to the particular needs of the individual child. However, there are some broad guidelines that can often help parents communicate with their autistic child and avoid melt-downs.
- Keep your sentences as brief as possible when speaking to children who are non-verbal or have a limited vocabulary. Short, simple instructions such as drink your juice, sit down, get the book are easier for them to understand.
- Look for non-verbal cues. An autistic child may use sounds, body language, facial expressions and gestures to communicate his or her needs. Picking up on these non-verbal cues can help you communicate more effectively with your child.
- Keep in mind your child’s sensitivity to sensory input. Some autistic children are highly sensitive to noise, light, touch or smell. Once you understand your child’s sensitivities, you can avoid them, which will make it easier for your child to function and communicate.
- Stick to a routine. A structured daily routine will help your child feel more secure. Meals, naps, school, therapy and bed time should happen according to a schedule. Help your child cope with disruptions to his or her routine – such as holidays – by preparing your child in advance. An autistic child’s preference for routine can work as both a strength and a weakness. Take advantage of it by structuring your skill development support so it becomes part of a routine.
- Identify your child’s strengths and interests and focus on them. Each child has his or her own unique skills and strengths. In fact, some autistic children are immensely skilled and talented. By identifying and focusing on your child’s strengths, you build confidence and self-esteem. Autistic children also tend to have very restricted interests. They can be used as motivators to help with language enhancement and acquisition. For example, if a child is obsessed with dinosaurs, his or her expressive language can be enhanced using dinosaurs as a topic and interactive tool.
- Create a safe zone at home. The safe zone should be a private space where your child feels safe and secure and can relax. Set boundaries for the space that your child can understand. Make sure there is nothing in the space that the child can use in a harmful way.
- Use visual cues. Generally, autistic children are visual learners, so visual aids can be used to work on skill areas that require support. Visual aids can include tactile objects, drawings, photographs, symbols or videos.
Be patient with yourself and your child when trying to communicate with him or her. Sometimes a period of trial and error is required before you find communication methods that work for your child. But as you’ll come to see, it will be worth the time and effort.
Nitin Bindlish, CEO at mom’s belief