”6 Key Ways To Support An Autistic Child” is a collaborative post. Please see the disclosure page for more information. Disclaimer – always verify medical information with your doctor or a professional.
We all want the best for the children in our care, whether we are parents, grandparents, carers, or teachers. Perhaps you have an autistic child in your care and are seeking to offer the best support? You’ll likely know that autism is a largely varied condition. Just like any typical kid, there’s no one fits all solution when it comes to helping an autistic child to thrive. As imaginable, offering great care is about best knowing the child, their strengths and weaknesses.
Safe proof your environment
One of the simplest ways to support an autistic child is to safe proof your environment, whether home or school. Autistic children may be especially prone to exhibiting challenging behaviors such as tantrums or outbursts. When such actions are frequent occurrences, the space must be as safety proof as possible to prevent the child from being injured. Simple things like placing locks on specific cabinets and cupboards are an excellent place to start. Some parents also choose to label certain areas of the home using color-coded signs.
THERAPY IS IMPORTANT
ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. It’s a type of therapy that seeks to understand how an individual’s behavior works. ABA is all about finding out how behavior is influenced by environment. The therapy is also concerned with the processes of learning and how it occurs. ABA aims to reduce the occurrence of problem behaviors while encouraging positive behaviors. Such programs can aid language and communication skills and improve social skills. If you have an autistic child in your care, it would be beneficial to Learn more about ABA therapy.
There are many types of therapy for children that are on the autism spectrum. My son had behavior therapy through different types of therapy. Initially he had one-on-one therapy with a psychologist that specialized in pediatrics. This happened just after he was diagnosed. It was not only for therapy during play with the therapist but also for assessment on how to better help him.
Around this time, we also enrolled him in play therapy. One hallmark of Asperger’s is the person has trouble understanding social cues. Play therapy was an 8 week or 12 week course where he would meet with other autistic kids and they would learn social skills like how to have empathy, how to listen and “read” facial expressions, how to introduce themselves. The best part of this therapy is that my son realized he wasn’t alone. He realized he could make friends and learned how to become a friend. It helped him believe in himself even at the sweet young age of 5 years old. From a mom’s point of view this was one of the many pivot points in his early childhood development.
Next, we found a therapist in a new town(had to move for my husband’s job). This therapy center was all about addressing sensory processing disorder which is common in people with autism. There are so many scientific studies about what causes the brain and nervous system to go haywire and cause a person to express autistic behavior and typical physical functional issues. The sensory processing disorder therapy center was one of a handful at that time that had started exploring how to train the brain to match up with the body’s specific nerves. One of the groups of nerves that were addressed were skin nerves specifically on the arms and legs. Part of the brush therapy was to 3 times a day brush his skin with a surgical brush. It helped my son become more calm through the day. I also believe the sensory processing therapy helped him become more coordinated as it seemed like his brain and his nerves were actually communicating better somehow. I am a big advocate of this type of therapy for kids with autism.
The last type of therapy he received was at our public school when we moved to North West Louisiana(such is the life of a project engineer). I know right?! A public school offering this?! I don’t understand why Louisiana gets such low marks on education every year; all of my kids are thriving here! My son was given occupational therapy actually at.the.school. WHOA! In addition, he also had an aide for the first two years at this school which was amazing! His aide was a new teacher that was a young guy in his 20s. I was so happy because I’ll never forget my son telling me he had a best friend and it was Mr. J. This guy helped instill confidence in my son that he could have a best friend, be another one of the guys, and could pass tests. What a blessing the occupational therapy and also the teacher’s aide was for my son. These therapies changed the path of his life forever.
One last note on therapy, it can be expensive. Very expensive. Still some centers have sliding scales based on income. Some might take certain insurance, payment from flexible spending accounts(FSA), or from health savings accounts(HSA). Check with the provider you are trying to receive therapy from what they accept. Also check with your insurance or the state you live in for assistance. You also need to verify with your child’s pediatrician if a referral is required for insurance to cover the visits and if so what specific medical codes are required for coverage. We had to go round and round with our insurance company due to mis-coding and it was a mess. Be sure to do this ahead of time to save yourself a headache later.
Support non-verbal cues
First, I want to mention, even if a child is non-verbal it doesn’t necessarily mean they cannot understand or figure out what you are saying or meaning. Please, please, please be kind and remember just because a person may not be able to communicate back doesn’t mean they can’t understand you. Communication and language will vary between ASD children. Some may not communicate using speech, and others will be able to do so. Those who can communicate through speech may struggle to detect body language or emotions expressed via tones of voice. Those who care for children with autism can learn to read the emotions, behavior, and needs of a child depending on the non-verbal cues that they express. A child may show you what they feel with gestures, pictures, or noises, for example. Also there are specific keyboards that some children are able to use to communicate. The more time you spend playing and learning with the child, the easier it will become to read their body language.
Establish a clear routine
The key to supporting an autistic child is consistency. It’s vital to establish a set routine for both school and home. Ensure that you have meals and activities at the same time daily, to lessen the chances of confusion. If you know that an upcoming day will involve a change of plan, it’s best to warn your child in advance. Having a schedule in place can also help a child with academic learning. The repetition can make it easier for them to be prepared, comfortable, and thus focus on an academic task.
For both my autistic child and other two kids, I created a photo chore chart for wake up time and for before bed time. I put the photos in order on a board with numbered steps and words. For example for wake up time, I had a picture of one of my kids making his bed – “Make Bed”. The next was cloths laid out on the bed for what they were going to wear – “Get Dressed”. Then one of the kids putting on their socks and shoes – “Put On Shoes”. Next was the kids at the table eating breakfast – “Eat Breakfast”. And last was a picture of one of my kids with a jacket on and a backpack – “Go To School”. I found having pictures of what they needed to do helped all of my kids and when they were very young they would reference the pictures as they got ready for school in the morning. Such measures could be visually helpful to help a child feel secure and understand their environment.
Rewards for positive actions
One of the best ways to motivate anyone, children/teens/adults/typical/atypical/whatever, is to reward good behavior. Make sure the child understands what the reward is for and use this reward system to influence their future actions positively. Rewards could be anything from stickers to toys, their favorite meal, or a movie. Some children may go through phases of consistent problem behavior, yet be patient. Try to understand if there have been changes in routines or environments. Be sensitive to what might shift their perspective on their otherwise routine life. With the right kind of therapy and positive reinforcement, these behaviors can be modified over time.
Work with others
To provide the best treatment for a child with autism, it’s crucial to work with the other adults in their life. If you are a parent, speak to your child’s teachers and therapists about your knowledge, concerns, and ideas. It’s a whole lot easier when each adult in an is sticking to the same plan. Collaborate together on what has worked and what has not worked, be consistent, and organize a regime together. It’s not uncommon for autistic children to exhibit slightly different behavior at home when compared to school. Comparing notes between each other is likely to be helpful. On this same subject, a tip for the beginning of each school year or therapy is to have an “Who I Am” introductory paper about your child. When my children were in earlier elementary grades or we moved to a new school, I would do this for all three of them. I included things like their name at the top of the paper with a picture, their likes and dislikes, their behaviors(Such as my autistic son used to stem alot when he was younger by shaking his hands or my youngest son loving to pick pick pick until other kids would snap so he was given an “island” desk in the middle of the room instead in one of the groups of four so he could concentrate.), a list of things that the might struggle with like switching classrooms or a specific subject or making new friends, and a list of their favorite things. Most teachers seemed very receptive of this and liked having a heads up on behaviors they might see through the year or ways they could better engage my kids in classwork.
Lastly, when it comes to any child, simply having fun can help to lift their mood if they’ve had a bad day. With ASD children, or any other children, It’s very normal to have good days and bad days. Creating an environment with as many positive experiences as possible can help to reduce stress. The more you learn about a child’s interests and habits, the easier it is to create a positive space for them.