Key Strategies for Parenting Kids With Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition that impairs a person’s ability to communicate, learn, and interact. The development disorder affects people in different ways, as well as in varying degrees, hence the term “spectrum.” If you have a child with ASD, they may be “low functioning” (meaning they need help with everyday tasks and are unable to live alone), “high functioning” (less obvious symptoms and more independent) or somewhere in between. Regardless of the severity of your child’s autism symptoms, you may struggle to find support and answers to your questions, especially right after the diagnosis. While you’re learning, individuals parenting kids with autism may benefit from focusing on these areas:

Join an autism support group. 

Support groups can provide information, friendships, and support for both caregivers and their children. There are peer-led groups led by parents of children with autism, groups led by professionals, such as social workers or psychologists, and informal play meetups in which children or teens with autism can spend time with their peers.

You can find these groups through schools, local autism groups, online autism support groups, and businesses and organizations that provide interventions for people with autism spectrum disorder.

Consult with a registered dietician about their diet.

Many children with autism have food allergies, food aversions (e.g., to strong tastes and textures), and digestive issues (nausea, constipation, stomach aches). Some kids may also have issues with choking or coughing while they eat or drink. While it might be tempting to jump into elimination diets to solve the problems, it’s best to consult with a registered dietician who specializes in helping children and teens with autism. 

There are a few reasons to start with a professional when changing your child’s diet. First, it’s common for children with autism to be picky eaters, which means they may not be getting enough nutrition from the foods they consume. But children with autism often have thinner bones and lower levels of certain vitamins and minerals, requiring them to up their intake of certain supplements or nutrition in a way that’s tolerable to the child without overdosing. In addition, suddenly changing your child’s diet can lead to worsening digestive issues as well as behavioral issues.

Focus on sleep.

It’s not uncommon for children and teens with autism to have a difficult time falling or staying asleep. You can help support good sleep hygiene by implementing the following tactics: 

  • Install room-darkening curtains. 
  • Use white noise or relaxing music if your child finds it soothing.
  • Ensure pajamas and bedding are comfortable and non-irritating.
  • Keep the room between 65 and 67 degrees (or warmer if your child can’t tolerate covers).
  • Try a weighted blanket.
  • Implement relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises.
  • Establish a regular pre-bedtime routine that includes a warm bath, brushing their teeth, and storytime.

If your child still struggles to fall or stay asleep, talk to your doctor about using a slow-release melatonin mini-pill, which has been shown to help children with ASD.

Keep them socializing.

Although it’s crucial that you don’t pressure your child or teen to socialize, you can look for opportunities to help them make friends. In addition to the autism support groups, consider activity-based classes, events, and volunteer opportunities that are focused on your child’s favorite hobbies or interests. These might include a Lego-building class at the library, volunteering with other kids at an animal shelter, a music class, or a coding workshop. Many local, regional, and national autism organizations list upcoming events and activities on their website or social media channels.

Work on communication skills.

Like other skills, social and communication skills can be learned with practice. You can work on these things at home by following these tips:

  • Use clear and simple language and speak at a slow and steady pace.
  • Make eye contact while speaking and listening.
  • Use your child’s name when speaking to them to help gain and maintain their attention.
  • Use simple gestures or imagery to show your child or teen what to envision or expect when explaining something new.
  • Avoid overwhelming your child with lots of questions or trying to have a conversation when the area is loud, crowded, or full of distractions.
  • Use literal language (rather than figurative) to avoid confusion or misinterpretation.

Most importantly, learn everything you can about your child’s specific type of autism, which may include behavioral, developmental, psychological, educational, and social-relational impairments. In addition, you may need to get up to speed on medications for physical, cognitive, and mental health conditions, such as seizures, ADHD, and anxiety. Consider keeping a journal to consistently record changes in your child’s behaviors, symptoms, sleep, and dietary habits. This will allow you to more accurately evaluate the effects of interventions or natural progressions (or regressions).

A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can feel like life-changing news for the entire family. But with the right support, your child or teen can thrive in school, relationships, work, and life in general. After all, being neurodivergent simply means that their brain works differently from the “average” person and having autism has no impact on a person’s worth or value. Your kiddo is still just as amazing and special as they were before their autism diagnosis. Now you just have more knowledge to help them navigate the world in ways that help them live up to their full potential!

For More: Autism Awareness & Intervention Begins With Parent Mindset >>

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