Self Help Training

Helping Children with Autism:

Providing Structure and safety

Learning all you can about autism and the treatments your child receives, will give you a comprehensive understanding of your child's treatment and will tremendously help life at home. These tips have been proven successful in helping children with autism while turning each day into an opportunity for parents to learn and grow.

  • Be consistent. Children with autism often find it difficult to apply knowledge gained in one setting, such as the classroom or doctor's office, to other familiar environments like the home. To support a child's retention and successful application of learned skills or information, parents are encouraged to create a sense of consistency within the home. This can be achieved by communicating closely with your child's therapist and learning how to carry these techniques over to the time he spends at home with you. Children with autism can learn to adapt if given the opportunity, so consider the option of conducting therapy sessions in a couple of different places. This gives him the chance to take what he has learned in one setting and use it effectively in another.
  • Stick to a schedule. Children affected by autism spectrum disorders crave consistency in routine and behavior. Most parents of children with autism have experienced the unexpected tantrum commonly associated with a break in routine or a sudden change of schedule. To avoid these undesirable situations and to provide your child with much-needed structure, develop a daily schedule for him to follow. Set a regular time for meals, playtime, school, therapy, hygiene and bedtime, keeping consistent to avoid preventable meltdowns. Advance warning is always beneficial when there is no way to avoid a change in the routine.
  • Reward good behavior. Research shows that positive reinforcement is especially effective in children with autism who are learning appropriate behavior patterns. Be observant and point it out when your child does anything well, as each small advance is a big victory for children with autism. Be specific about the good behavior that is being praised and offer tangible rewards like stickers that remind him of the event later.
  • Create a home safety zone. A child with autism needs to feel secure and relaxed in all of their normal environments and home is one of the most important. Use visual cues, such as picture labels or a stretch of tape to mark off specific areas to help your child understand his boundaries. Childproofing the entire house is suggested, especially if unexpected tantrums in any room may result in injury.

Finding non-verbal ways to connect to your child

For the majority of children with autism, traditional speech is not considered to be the preferred method of communication. Instead, many people with autism connect with and bond with the people around them through body language and behavior. Observe your child carefully and make sure that your own movements, expressions and tones reflect how you want your child to view you.

  • Look for nonverbal cues. The body language and facial expressions used by children with autism serve to communicate many of their thoughts and feelings, even when they don't speak. Pay attention to these factors to learn which are repeated when the child is hungry, sleepy, frightened or otherwise in need of closer attention.
  • Figure out the need behind the tantrum. A tantrum can frequently arise in a child with autism, when the child feels that their parents or care givers do not understand their needs. Observance of non-verbal cues will help in determining the reason for the tantrum as well as how to bring it to an end. Throwing a tantrum is their way to get your attention and communicate frustrations.
  • Make time for fun. While a structured routine of school and therapy are necessary and beneficial, children with autism still need time for fun. Choose a block of time every day in which your child is alert and most eager to interact. Consider the fact that school and therapy take up a lot of your child's time, so any fun activities should focus on the separate and important aspect of simply being a kid and having a good time together.
  • Pay attention to your child's sensory sensitivities. Hypersensitivity to a variety of stimuli, including bright lights, loud sounds and offensive odors, can cause a child with autism to behave in unpredictable ways. In others, a lack of sensitivity can trigger what is commonly considered to be bad behavior. Finding out what causes your child to feel anxious is as important as figuring out what he finds most calming. Observe your child's responses to certain situations and use this to prevent problems in the future.

Create a personal treatment plan

Because such a wide variety of autism treatments exist, parents often find it difficult to decide which are the best for their child; conflicting advice and suggestions from teachers, doctors, family members and other parents make this important choice even more difficult to make. Remember that your child is unique and that no single plan of action is right for everyone.

You know your child, his strengths and his weaknesses better than anyone else, so follow your intuition when considering a treatment plan and customize it to fit his specific needs. An effective treatment plan for your child with autism will:

  • Build on your child's interests.
  • Offer a predictable schedule.
  • Teach tasks as a series of simple steps.
  • Actively engage your child's attention in highly structured activities.
  • Provide regular reinforcement of behavior.
  • Involve the parents.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Finding Help and Support in your Community

Because your job as parents of a child with autism requires so much time and energy, you often may find yourselves facing overwhelming stress and concern every day. It is crucial to remember that you are not alone and that you don't have to do everything by yourself. Support, advocacy and advice from experienced parents and care givers can go a long way in helping you on your journey to coping with your child's autism. Don't try to do everything on your own. You don't have to! There are many places that families of autistic kids can turn to for advice, a helping hand, advocacy, and support:

  • Autism support groups – Parents of children with autism benefit immensely from spending time and relating with other adults who share their situation. Support groups provide parents with the opportunity to realize that they are not alone and that emotional support is available for those in dire need of it.
  • Respite care – More than other parents, adults who are coping with the challenges of raising a child with autism and need extra time for themselves. Professional care givers in respite care give parents the time they need to deal with the stresses of daily life, providing quality care for autistic children for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the parents' needs and preferences. To find respite care options in your area, see our Resources page.
Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what’s missing…But autism…is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an over-expression of the very traits that make our species unique
Paul Collins