Your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). What does this mean and where do you go from here?
The most valuable support you can give to a child with ASD is your understanding and knowledge of how they see the world and their feelings towards the world around them.
Celebrate your child’s individuality
It’s really important to see the positive aspects in the individual and celebrate the amazing things they can do. Really focus on the value they find in specific topics and engage with them to learn more about their chosen skills.
Specific topics can change from time to time so be aware that one day they’ll be telling you all about dinosaurs but the next week they could be totally mesmerised by how flowers grow. Really listen to them, you might learn something yourself.
Try to put yourself in their shoes
I know will be difficult to start with but hopefully, as each day goes by, you’ll gain a better understanding of how they see the world. You’ll start to understand their own little ways and habits in which they do something.
For example, they might open and close a door 4 times before actually walking through it or they might take the laces out of their shoes, and put them back in a specific way before putting them on. It’s important to realise that daily tasks will take a little longer but you must allow them plenty of time to carry these through to avoid causing anxiety.
Be aware of sensory issues
Be mindful of the difficulties individuals face within different environments. Their sensory processing can be easily overloaded very quickly so it’s important to plan ahead when you’re going out and about. Going into a supermarket can be overpowering for individuals with lots of people, different sounds, bright lights, certain smells etc. It can be very overwhelming for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
This isn’t to say they can’t go to a supermarket, of course they can, but you need to plan and explain where you’re going and what they need to expect so that when they arrive, the overwhelm is lessened. They will still need your support throughout the experience even though you’ve given them a heads up.
Some children benefit from headphones or ear defenders. Sunglasses often help too if lights are too bright. Individuals will cope differently though, so one child might be fine without ear defenders whereas another child might need them. It really is down to the individual’s sensory processing.
Allow your child to feel safe
You’ll very quickly realise that a child with ASD needs constant reassurance to allow them to feel safe and more relaxed. They might need to hold your hand or your arm when out and about. They might have a toy which they take everywhere with them to help them feel content and safe.
You might have to engage in conversation a lot because to them your voice is soothing and puts them at ease. Each individual is completely different so it’s important to fully understand what reassurance they need.
Preparation is key
If you’re going into a certain situation that you know will cause a child anxiety, either avoid it completely (if possible) or explain and reassure them what’s about to happen and that you’re there for them to alleviate any anxieties.
If a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder has an anxious situation sprung upon them, they will react. However, if you pre-warn them that a situation is coming, they still might react but their reaction will be less than it would’ve been. This gives you an opportunity to support them from beginning to end.
Be consistent and provide structure
Children with ASD need structure and routine. It’s extremely important that you respect this. A visual routine is very effective so they know how their day will pan out and what’s happening next. There will be times when their routine has to change suddenly and that’s okay, but you must support them through that change.
Try to give as much warning as possible if you can, to avoid causing them too much anxiety. On occasions where a warning isn’t possible, be prepared to offer extra guidance and constant reassurance that it’s okay, you’re there for them and it’s okay to display a particular emotion because of the change.
You really must respect and listen to the individual’s wishes and needs for how they want to live their life. This will mean strategic planning, organisation, awareness, understanding and care to the highest level in order to support their wishes.
Make them feel that their needs are important and valued. Using certain communication methods and strategies to suit the individual is key in their development. You almost have to let them lead you to understand how they want to live their life and the way in which they do so needs to be respected and valued.
They are living in the same world as you but their understanding of the way in which they do things is very different and that’s to be understood very carefully. We can learn to understand their way of thinking but they won’t understand ours. Compromise is key.
These are just a few examples of how you can understand and support a child with ASD but as I said, every child is different. If you’d like any further support or guidance on any of the aspects mentioned then please do get in touch. Support is here for you.