Guest Post by Kris Kenny, MSN, RN, CPN, CAS
There are many priorities for the parent to consider after the initial diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for their child. Making all the specialist's appointments and attending them is overwhelming and ongoing. Dealing with the emotional toll and grief associated with a new diagnosis can be a lot to handle. Many things happen the first few years after a diagnosis as you get your child with ASD on the right path. This article will discuss some overlooked tips for raising a child with ASD that no one may have ever told you about. It is a guide for you to consider as you navigate your new parenting role as a parent with a child with ASD.
- Care for yourself
Make sure to take care of your own physical and mental well-being so you can take care of your child with ASD and their siblings. Self-care is a lifelong journey as is raising a child with ASD. Give yourself grace as you begin this journey. It does not matter which form of self-care you choose if you are doing it daily. Over time it adds up and will make a lasting difference to your physical, mental, and emotional health.
- Never underestimate how much your child understands.
Autism Parenting states that autistic children very often understand most, if not all, of what is going on around them. The difference is how they react to these conditions and the level at which they can communicate. Communication deficits are a part of the ASD diagnosis criteria. However, just because your child may not be able to use words to express himself/herself properly does not mean that he/she cannot comprehend what you are saying.
- Find your child’s uniqueness and personality underneath the ASD diagnosis.
Look at your child’s personality, interests, and likes/dislikes as they present themselves. Some children are shy and quiet, while others are loud and bossy. Try not to compare, it is the thief of joy. Even though children with autism do not develop in a linear fashion like their neurotypical peers, they do develop and grow into their wonderful selves. It is our job to help them along the way to be who they are. Having an ASD diagnosis is just a part of who they are, it is not their whole story.
- Educate Yourself so you can Advocate for your child.
Understanding what resources are available for your child at each age of development is critical. Research states that parent empowerment is defined as the process by which parents gain access to resources. It is linked to positive outcomes including parent self-esteem. Autism Speaks, CDC, and National Institute of Mental Health: Autism Spectrum Disorder are websites that offer a plethora of educational materials to increase your knowledge base.
- Know that you are never alone on this journey
Just knowing that you are not alone is so empowering in and of itself. Raising a child with diverse needs throughout their lifetime is challenging and can be emotionally depleting at times. However, just knowing this one fact can make your whole outlook change. Regardless of how you make connections, in person or online- it does not matter. What matters is that you understand what resources are available locally, nationally, and internationally that will help you feel less alone, more empowered, and better able to handle the demands of raising a child with ASD.
- Create visual schedules, calendars, and social stories
Visual schedules, calendars, and social stories are proven to help people with ASD. Many people with ASD rely on visuals to increase their understanding and improve their means of communication with their children. Visuals go a long way and can be started at any age. Alter them depending on your child’s level of reading, comprehension, and development. This task can be simple, or you can search from Google images or use real pictures that you already possess on your phone or in photo albums to create what you need.
- Consider sensory issues with your child in every surrounding.
Each person with ASD is unique and has their sensory makeup. Awareness and knowledge in this area are key to helping your child. Sensory problems are a piece of the ASD diagnostic criteria. Making adaptations will make a difference and help them to regulate themselves as they grow.
- Look at every environment your child is in and assess what can be altered.
- Consult an occupational therapist
- Utilizing sensory safe equipment
- Creating safe spaces for your child in every environment.
- Learn to understand the motivation behind outbursts
Behavioral Services recommends looking at nonverbal cues to help figure out behavior outbursts. Increase your awareness of the sounds, facial expressions, and gestures that they use when they are about to throw a tantrum. Consider whether the child is tired, hungry, or overstimulated. Outbursts are often a way of communicating frustration and getting attention. Staying tuned into your child’s nonverbal behavior may help you to understand what is going on with your child.
- Reward Good Behavior
Providing positive feedback to your child with ASD is incredibly needed for their well-being. Catching the behavior that you want your child to exhibit positively will reinforce the child to continue to behave that way. Rewarding good behavior via verbal praise or through a treat helps build self-esteem and lets your child know that you see them and are proud of what they are doing.
- Address the Impact of Autism on Siblings and other Family members.
The Organization for Autism Research indicates that the siblings of a child with ASD will face challenges like those that the parents encounter but at a time before they have developed appropriate coping strategies. As a result, parents need to support siblings to ensure that they are informed, respected, and know how to be compassionate advocates for their siblings on the spectrum. Autism Speaks has created a toolkit to get you started.
Looking for more information, you will enjoy these:
- How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctors
- How to Advocate for your Child with ASD in a Medical Setting
- How to Connect With Parents (Locally and Worldwide) After an Autism Diagnosis
- Self-Care for the Parent of a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Siblings of Autistic Children: Common Concerns and Effective Support Strategies
Parenting is a rewarding and challenging job. You are a critical component and member of that team. Do not forget that. You will guide and protect your child as they grow. You are the expert and specialist in loving and caring for your child. Give yourself grace, take it day by day, and remember you are never alone on this journey.
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