How to help your child with day to day life?
Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have issues with daily living skills to different extents. Some need help with daily tasks like brushing their teeth and dressing up, while others can go through most of their day with minimal assistance. The important thing is to understand the child’s needs and try to make provisions to meet those needs.
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To be of maximum assistance to your child, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Learn more about ASD. The more you know about ASD, the more you can be of assistance to your child. The knowledge equips you with specific directions and action steps and gives you the confidence to handle whatever comes up. That confidence can be the calming force in difficult times. Reading an article like this is a step in that direction.
- Understand your child’s peculiarities. While general knowledge can be of help, your child is unique and special. Not all the information on ASD will apply to your child. Use your intimate knowledge of your child to craft the environment and systems your child needs to thrive. Close interaction and observation of your child will give you and their caregivers the information to break the rules when needed so that your child can have the support they need.
- Provide a structured, safe space for your child to express themselves freely. Routine is one of the ways children with ASD handle social interaction and emotional needs. Understanding and cultivating daily routines that allow your child to express themselves freely will go a long way in helping them live a less stressful life. Examples of these daily routines you can embark on include:
- Be consistent in your interactions with them.
- Help them maintain a schedule. Keep deviations from this schedule to a minimum.
- Encourage good behaviour you want to see repeated with positive reinforcements.
- Create a physical safe space for them at home. It is a private safe space where they can play and have their toys undisturbed, marked with clear boundaries (for them and other people in the house), and only entered with their permission. If your child has a history of self-injury, make sure this space is safety-proofed.
- Be a dependable support, even in tough times. When your child has tantrums, meltdowns, periods of misunderstanding, or stims, you may feel like throwing in the towel. Don’t! They need you, especially in these times. You may sometimes need help to handle the emotional and physical toil of caring for your child. Get the help but don’t give up on your child. Your reliability could mean a whole world of difference to them.
The rest of the article gives you specific tips on how you can help your child in different areas of life. We start with communication.
How to help your child communicate
Autistic children can find it hard to express themselves in words. This often leads to lots of strong feelings, including anger, frustration, and resentment. Sarcasm, irony, tone of voice, and body language do not get through to them, causing lots of frustration.
Use your understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses to create support systems so that they can communicate their thoughts and desires more easily.
- Use social stories
- Speak in short, clear sentences
- Teach them how to express their desires in simple sentences
- Teach them to write
- Teach them to express their anger politely
- Take your time to listen to them
- Encourage play and social interaction
- Use assistive devices
- Shout at them or shout them down
Dealing with anxiety
Everybody experiences anxiety, especially in unfamiliar situations. This is also true in children with ASD. Because they have trouble communicating their emotions, they can feel anxiety and other emotions deeply. In fact, this feeling can be so deep that they experience high levels of stress and panic. The first step to helping children with ASD is to understand the causes of their anxiety. (These causes are called triggers.)
Common anxiety triggers include:
- Changes in their environment, e.g., a change of home, room, furniture, or toys
- Deviations in routine, e.g., not going home from school at the usual time because a caregiver is late or unavailable
- Unfamiliar environments, e.g., birthday parties or amusement parks
- Specific phobias, e.g., fear of sleeping alone, staying in the dark, specific objects or home appliances, etc
- Transition periods
Your child’s specific anxiety triggers may not be on the list above. Take your time to figure out and list your child’s anxiety triggers. Now that you know the possible triggers for your child, look for ways to help them handle these situations.
To help them manage these situations, you need to help them recognize what anxiety feels like in their body. This varies from child to child and from time to time. They may include sweaty palms, increased heartbeat rates, knots in the stomach, and uncontrollable physical motions. You may need to work with your child to identify these signs in their body.
Once you’ve identified the signs, practise dealing with these signs in a safe place. Teach them how to deal with the signs they experience. Help them practise dealing with the signs often until you are confident they can handle all of their anxiety triggers. Keep practising these skills intermittently until you feel there is no need for them.
Some ways of dealing with anxiety are listed below. Pick and choose what works for you. They include:
- Counting to 50
- Taking a number of deep breaths
- Retreating to a safe place
- Reading or flipping through a favourite (picture) book.
- Closing eyes for a minute
- Looking at step-by-step pictures of unfamiliar or new environments (e.g., a new school)
- Gradually easing them into a new routine.
- Watching someone undergo an activity that is causing them stress
- Showing them videos of people, activities, or places to acclimate them to those entities that could/may have induced anxiety in them previously.
- Use a sensory toolbox.
- Have them turn the anxiety-inducing situation into a story
- Let them use a fidget toy.
If need be, you can consult a psychologist about developing anxiety management strategies.
Suppose the strategies suggested above do not work, and there are frequent cases of anxiety that interfere with the child’s daily living. In that case, you may be prescribed medication to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Helping with your child’s behaviour
Autistic children usually display their emotions in intense ways, including:
Stimming refers to things people do to themselves to handle anxiety. These include biting nails, rocking back and forth, curling your hair around your fingers, drumming your fingers on a desk, repeating words, flapping hands, and rearranging toys all day. Stimming behaviours can sometimes be violent or self-injurious, e.g., head banging or swallowing sharp objects.
Everyone stims. However, people with autism may not understand social cues that should inform them when their stimming behaviour affects people around them. Their stimming behaviour can become a daily habit lasting for hours each day.
Autistic people sometimes express their desires or emotions in intense outbursts. These outbursts are called meltdowns. They are a response to deeply resonant or touching situations. They are characterized by a temporary total loss of control of behaviour, resulting in wild verbal and physical demonstrations.
Meltdowns are an autistic person’s way of expressing frustration and expressing the depth of their emotions concerning a matter. It is the result of an overwhelming intensity of emotion.
Dealing with Stimming
Stimming is a coping mechanism that can occur for a variety of reasons. It could be a means to get attention, adapt to an unfamiliar environment, cope with sensory overload, calm oneself or express frustration. It is also essential to observe how previous stimming episodes were resolved. This may help you determine, for example, if the stimming behaviour is a means to get attention or a means to express frustration at not being able to communicate effectively with another party.
Note that stimming behaviour, such as head banging, could be caused by a medical issue like seizures. If you suspect a medical cause for stimming, kindly consult your doctor.
If the stimming behaviour is becoming a problem for your child or other people at home, in school, or on the playground, you may need to work on managing the behaviour. Examples of problems that can be caused by stimming include isolation, destructive tendencies, academic issues, etc.
If stimming results in self-harm or destructive behaviour, kindly consult a doctor to seek ways to control the behaviour. Otherwise, work on managing the behaviour in your child.
To manage the behaviour, it is vital to understand the triggers. What happened before the stimming behaviour began? If there have been multiple episodes, what is common to them? Where do they differ from one another?
If you suspect something, such as loud noise, is a trigger for the stimming behaviour, try to eliminate or reduce it and see how that affects that particular stimming behaviour. This can help you narrow down the list of possible triggers.
Avoid changes in routine for daily tasks, so you can more easily identify stimming triggers. Do not try to punish the behaviour. That may make them more despondent. Instead, resolve the underlying issue and wean them off that behaviour. Maintain routines and other actions to minimize anxiety.
If you still can’t find the trigger for a behaviour, consult an autism specialist to help with identifying the trigger.
Once identified, try to minimize or eliminate the trigger. Ask your child if your attempts are working so you can know to keep searching until you find the solutions that work for your child.
If stimming continues, try to manage the behaviour using the following tips.
- Try to calm the child down
- If the behaviour is unsafe, intervene immediately
- Apply what you know about the trigger to help the child recover
- Create a safe environment where the child can be helped to stop stimming
- Help the child do replacement activities that address the stimming trigger
- Share information on your findings on triggers with caregivers and other family members.
- Clearly communicate how family members and caregivers can be of help
- If these don’t work or don’t work as well as expected, see your doctor
- Follow recommendations given by health professionals concerning stimming behaviour.
If your child is having a meltdown,
- Get them to a private space as soon as possible if the meltdown is happening in public. Herd people away, so they don’t stare, pass comments or make them any more uncomfortable.
- Calmly ask them if they are OK. Be patient to hear their answer; it may take a while.
- Isolate and eliminate any immediate triggers such as loud noise, bright lights, or strong smells
Before the meltdown, your child would likely display signs of stress, anxiety, or unrest. When you spot these signs, try to divert their energy from the source of the stress to other things such as personal interests, fiddle toys, listening to music using noise-canceling headphones, etc.
Try to identify triggers for meltdowns using the process outlined above for finding the stimming triggers above. Once you’ve identified the signal, try to minimize it or avoid it if possible.
- Avoiding whole categories of foods, e.g., veggies
- Avoiding specific foods due to texture or temperature considerations
- Elaborate rituals and processes before eating
- Eating non-edible substances like sand
- Light exercise before eating
- Use a visual meal plan to encourage them to eat more
- Maintain a cheerful and positive disposition around food
- Serve your child the same food as the rest of the family
- Don’t wait for them to get hungry
People with ASD tend to have insomnia. They can have problems getting to sleep and staying asleep. These problems come in various forms, including:
- Inconsistent sleeping and waking patterns
- Staying awake for more than one hour at night
- Playing alone at night for hours
The causes of this problem are majorly classified as either daytime habits or nighttime habits. Other causes include anxiety, bedwetting, illnesses, nightmares, and social communication difficulties.
The most crucial daytime habit that causes poor sleep is lack of physical activity. This can be easily remedied by getting your child to do more daytime physical play like running and jumping. The second important habit has to do with their diet. It is recommended that they eat not too early and not too late so that they can go to sleep without feeling too full or hungry.
Nighttime habits for ensuring your child gets consistent sleep include:
- Make sure the child does not have too much play or noise just before bed.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine
- Do not allow the child to fall asleep outside their bed. This trains their mind to associate their bed with sleep.
- Make sure the bedroom is not changed without their knowledge.
- Keep the room temperature just right for them. You may need to experiment a little to get the right temperature for your child.
For persistent problems about bedwetting, nightmares, and illnesses, kindly see your GP.
For anxiety and social communication issues, your work on dealing with anxiety will come in handy.
Sleep, fitness, and nutrition have an outsized impact on the quality of life you and your child would live over the next few years and, perhaps, decades.
Ensure your child eats healthy, sleeps well, exercises, and has regular checkups with his doctors – GP, dentists, opticians, and other specialists.
Healthy eating and good sleep have been covered in previous sections.
Keep your child strong and healthy with regular exercise. Make sure your exercise sessions are not prolonged but short and sweet, ending on a cheerful note.
Friendships and socialising
One of the defining attributes of autism is the inability to connect emotionally and socially to people. However, it does not mean autistic children cannot make friends. It just means parents have to be deliberate about it.
- Enlist help from as many parents as you can
- Search online for local support groups for autism
- Ask doctors for help with helping your child communicate and interact
- Don’t push your child too soon too much
- Give your child the freedom to choose their circle or no circle at all.
How autism can affect you and your family
ASD can impose a severe, sudden, continuous toll on a family. Its effect can be significant physically, emotionally, maritally, financially, and in every other way. Everyone is affected. Everything is affected.
- Talk about how to integrate the child on the spectrum into family life.
- Schedule and cultivate time alone as a couple to talk, recharge and reconnect. Date nights should be planned, not haphazard.
- Talk to other children in the family about autism and how they can be of help.
- Build stronger relationship bridges between siblings
- Provide a support structure for other siblings in the family.
- Play the blame game. This is a time for everyone to contribute their part and see to it that the child with autism is well taken care of
- Suspend life because you have a child with autism
Advice about school
Choosing a school for your child
There are several factors to consider when considering school for autistic kids. The quality of instruction, the number of students, size of classes, the design of their school, transport, etc. The decision of which type
There are two kinds of school your child can go to:
- Mainstream school – the general school, which can have a special educational needs staff
- Special school – a school dedicated to children with special educational needs
A mainstream school is not tailored for children with autism. It is a school for all kinds of children. A child with autism would need extra support outside of classroom infrastructures to keep up with their classmates. Finally, the placement would be too expensive, as there would be no rebates to subsidize the education expenses. However, it provides the child with a normal environment to grow in the company of other peers.
A special school is dedicated to educating children who have special educational needs. An autistic child would be given expert, personalized attention here. This would pave the way to faster learning and understanding. It is also important as the money could be diverted to educate siblings.
The exact school chosen will depend on the child’s needs, the school size, type of schools locally available, financial strength, etc.
Autistic children can live fulfilled lives if they are well taken care of, with structures and processes and the help needed to function like every other person.