As a mom of autistic twin sons, I can honestly say that it’s so hard to parent an autistic child.
Having a child with autism can be overwhelming and exhausting. It’s easy to lose hope, especially if you don’t have much knowledge or experience to go by. So in the hopes of being a little more helpful, I’ve put together this list of the 5 best tips to parenting a child with autism.
1. Expertly Advocate for Your Child
If you are new to autism, there will be a learning curve to figure out how to handle the situation. Learn about your child, the diagnoses and the resources available for your child. The better you understand these, the better you can advocate for your child.
- Become an Expert on Your Child
From your child’s habits in eating, sleeping and behaving, to child’s strength, interests and learning style, you want to become an expert on your child. If you know your child like back of your hand, you will feel more confident to advocate for your child.
To know your child very well, you should be able to answer the following questions without much difficulty.
Does my child have physical or sensory conditions that need to be improved?
What are my child’s favorite food and snacks?
Does my child have a good pattern of sleeping?
How does child react when he is tired or upset?
What can cause the behaviors?
What are my child’s strengths?
Is he a visual learner?
How to best motivate my child to do non-preferred things?
What is the best way to communicate with my child?
What essential skills my child doesn’t have?
- Learn More about Your Child’s diagnosis
There is a big range of symptoms for autism by definition. Your child can be unique to his diagnosis and he is qualified for personalized treatment plan. The more you understand autism, autism treatments and laws, the better you will be equipped to participate in creating personalized treatment plan for your child.
- Learn the rights for your child
As a parent of a child with autism, you are legally allowed to be involved in developing IEP for your child. You can invite anyone you want to be in the IEP team. You can request IEP meetings when the child’s needs are not being met.
You don’t have to agree with school system’s recommendations.
- Advocate the Best Available Resource for your Child.
Depending on your state and available programs in your area, you might have to advocate strongly for what your child needs in treatments. There isn’t any best solution for all autistic children, but you can advocate the one that is most suitable for your child that is available in your area.
The bottom line, it is up to you to advocate a treatment plan to be tailored to your child’s need. You are more capable of doing this when you are expert on your child.
2. Provide Consistency
As with all parenting rules for an autistic child, consistency is the most important. It includes consistency in schedules, nutrition, environment, and consistent responses to behaviors.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, many autism parents like myself find that autistic children like the structured and predicable routines. To some extent, they will learn to enjoy differences between weekday schedules and weekend schedules.
Start with a “Routine Book” to help the child understand what to expect when and what they should be doing each day. Very soon he might be able to memorize the routines without the “book”.
Consistent nutrition is necessary for children with autism because the various problems can occur without it. First, nutrition supports a good mental and physical condition. Most nutrients can not be stored in the body and are needed in daily basis. Consistency is a key here. Secondly, an autistic child might have behaviors when they don’t know how to communicate the feeling of hunger. Lastly, Consistent nutrition leads to healthy diet habits that are sustainable enough to keep throughout the child’s life.
An autistic child might feel less stressful when they are around the familiar places consistently. They also can learn to regulate their own emotions and behaviors better. Consistent environment means the components of predictability, safety and comfort for them.
Consistency in response to the child’s behaviors is to have a firm boundary consistently without having to change the strategies too often.
An autism parent can feel powerless when their autistic child acts out. They may have tried a number of different strategies for managing the child’s behavior without much success. In fact, trying too many techniques for managing an autistic child’s behavior can sometimes be part of the problem. They respond better to firm boundaries that are reinforced frequently.
- For the same reason, you should use the same consequence every time for a specific negative behavior. This makes it much more likely your child will learn to avoid that negative behavior. You can also use different consequences for different behaviors.
- Don’t give in to tantrums. They learn from your actions that they can get what they want by throwing tantrums if you give in.
- Use consistent consequences. An autistic child can learn that the consequences are for negative behaviors that they may lose their privilege when they don’t behave properly. It might take longer time than you expected, but they will eventually get it if you follow through each consequence every time.
3. Be Patient
Being patient is the hardest skill to polish when parenting an autistic child. No matter how patient you are, there are times you will be frustrated how and why they don’t progress as fast as you expect.
Be patient with this process.
Don’t try to change your child, instead, do your best to find the best therapists and services for them. The goal is to help your child to reach their potential.
Try not to compare your child with other children. Instead, compare your child with themselves at different ages.
Let your child learn at his or her own pace. Don’t force the child to learn something just because you think that it is age appropriate to typical children. Instead, let the child learn with their cognitive abilities.
Accept the hard truth that your child might never be able to “fit in” or “close the gap” with neuro-typical children. Love who they are and be patient to work toward the goals.
4. Use Favorites as Positive Reinforcers
Through my experience and observation, most autistic children need to be motivated constantly to stay on tasks. Lack of internal motivation is part of the myth of autism.
Autistic parents may use some child’s favorite toys, snacks, meals or activities or even hugs and kisses as positive reinforcers to improve behaviors and communication. I would say it is a must that an autistic parent to use the favorites to help motivate the child.
I have been using this method to solve my autistic twin sons’ behavioral problems. No matter big or small problems, favorite foods are the most motivating ones to help improve the conditions. Follow up my post on how to use favorites as positive reinforcers for autism.
5. Embrace the Hard Work
No one would doubt that raising an autistic child is a hard work. It means that sacrifice and effort are required in much longer stretch than raising a typical child.
The best way to enjoy parenting an autistic child is to embrace the hard work. This may include but not limit to:
- Take care yourself physically and emotionally. It is obvious that you won’t enjoy the hard work if you don’t feel well. It is necessary that you feel fit to take care of your child. Otherwise, the hard work will drag you into more physical and emotional deficits.
- Set the goals for the child and help achieve them. It may sound easy, but it is a lot of hard work to really succeed this. Being an expert of your child, you are on the driver seat to set the goals for your autistic child. You are the supervisor to know if the goals are being implemented properly. Don’t be afraid to make the necessary changes if needed.
- Building the habits of working with your child, not just loving him. It is natural that you are going to give your child a lot of hugs and kisses. They are also can be one of the best positive reinforcers for your child to earn the privilege. When you have the habits of working with your child, you will make them to communicate with you when ever they want something. It is easier to just hand them the things they want, but it is a rewarding hard work if you make your child to earn what they want.
- Prepare for the unexpected. New challenges come up during different years of age. Mentally prepare for it, knowing this is part of hard work you will put in. Diligently find the solution and patiently solve the problems are the keys to the success of this part of hard work.
- Stick with the principles. You may use different approach to reinforce their positive behaviors, but the principles of parenting should remain the same. Don’t let empathy overcome the principles. They should be rewarded if they do something right and should lose some privileges when they do something wrong. It may take much longer time to fully understand these principles, but they will eventually get it if you are consistent with them.
In conclusion, there’s no magic formula or one-size-fits-all for parenting of autism. Different children react to different things in different ways, and there are always exceptions to every rule. It’s important to understand that you are not alone. Share your parenting tips or reach out to us if you need help to find better parenting solutions for your child.