Learning more about autism and trying different ways to support your child can make a significant difference. Additionally, there may be simple actions you can take at home to make life easier for both you and your child. Here are a few suggestions from the Grace Neurodiversity Advice Team to consider:
Each child is unique
Often as advisers we speak to parents who may be awaiting diagnosis or recently received a diagnosis of Autism for their child. It can be a daunting time and there is much information out there, often with differing advice. This is because Autism is a spectrum and each person’s experience is unique, so the support for them also needs to be unique. However, we find that these strategies are a good starting point.
Remember, do what works for you and your child and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Become an expert on your child
Find out what works and what doesn’t for your child. What triggers them, causing anxiety and dysregulation? What soothes them and interests them? Look for nonverbal cues. Pay attention to the kinds of sounds they make, their facial expressions, and the gestures they use when they're tired, hungry, or want something. The more strategies you have to support your child, the better. Share these with other caregivers and ensure that everyone is consistent.
Children with Autism may have difficulty transferring and applying what they've learned in one setting to another, such as school to home. For example, your child may use sign language or picture cards at school to communicate but never think to do so at home. To help them thrive, it is essential to create consistency in your child's environment. Working with your child's teachers and using the same strategies at home and school reinforces that consistency.
Routine, routine, routine!
Children with Autism often thrive when supported by a highly structured schedule or routine. Again, this goes back to the consistency they both need and crave, as change can cause anxiety. The world can be an overwhelming place to navigate when you are autistic and changes to routines that help you manage the world can cause a great deal of stress. Set up a plan for your child, with regular times for meals, play, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare your child for it in advance.
Keep your language simple Be specific and to the point. Some autistic children can find it difficult to process a lot of language at once. If this is the case for your child, you may want to reduce the ‘language load’. For example, if you want them to sit on their chair, say, for example, "Henry, please sit". Avoid using unnecessary language that may get lost in the communication message, such as "Henry, can you please sit on your chair now". Use keywords to avoid an overload of information.
Be literal and obvious in your choice of language. Focus on the desired outcome rather than what you don’t want them to do. For example: rather than "don't run" (the child may process the word "run" and miss the command word ‘don’t) – say "please walk". Always say exactly what you mean and use positive language, focusing on what you would like your child to do, rather than not do.
Be as concrete as possible in your use of language: Ensure any abstract language and concepts are initially supported visually to help with understanding. Where possible avoid using language with a different meaning, such as sarcasm and idioms; as these may be interpreted literally or misunderstood.
Emphasise keywords of your communication message with sign language and/or visual support: This can give your child extra cues as to what you mean, especially for children with additional learning difficulties. We naturally communicate in many different ways: orally, verbally, through body language and gestures, as well as visually. So, the more you can use the communication methods that work best for your child, the better.
Positive reinforcement can help all children and be especially useful for neurodiverse children who may struggle with learning social norms and expectations. Make an effort to praise them when they act appropriately or learn a new skill, being very specific about what behaviour they're being praised for. Also, look for other ways to reward them for good behaviour, such as giving them a sticker or letting them play with a favourite toy. As they get older, this may be switched for time at a favourite activity, or another reward linked to their interests.
Create a safe home zone Create a private space in your home where your child can feel secure, relaxed, and safe. This will involve organising and setting boundaries in ways your child can understand. Visual cues can be beneficial such as coloured tape marking areas off limits or labelling household items with pictures. You may also need to safety-proof the house, particularly if your child experiences episodes of dysregulation and self-injurious behaviours.
Pay attention to your child's sensory sensitivities. Many children with autism are hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Some children with autism are “under-sensitive” to sensory stimuli. Find out what sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations elicit a positive response. What does your child find calming? Enjoyable? Music, lighting, and tactile tools such as weighted blankets etc. may be things you consider in their safe space.
Be kind to yourself
Remember, everyone has good and bad days. Be kind to yourself and never forget that you are doing all that you can to support your child. Being neurodiverse in a world catered for neurotypical people can have its difficulties, but neurodiverse people can experience the wonders of the world in a way others can only dream of. Autism can be a superpower!
Grace Consulting are the UK’s founding providers of expert independent advice on elderly care advice, special needs advice and neurodiversity advice. Independence and client wellbeing are at the heart of everything we do. We listen, reassure and advise you on how to move forwards and find the best possible solutions for your unique life challenges.