In the past few decades, autism has gotten a lot of media attention. We’ve seen autism in movies, on TV shows, and talked about it frequently. A lot of this attention has made the general population more aware of the disorder and what it means for people diagnosed with autism and their families.
For children diagnosed with autism, their parents are usually the first to notice developmental challenges; some of these may include delayed language development, lack of interest in social play with peers, and repetitive actions (e.g., flapping hands or spinning objects).
While autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is categorised as a developmental disability that typically lasts for a lifetime, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to help children diagnosed with ASD lead fulfilled lives. In fact, according to recent research published in the journal science direct, the correct type of interventions can have very positive effects on children’s development from as young as infancy all the way into adolescence and early adulthood.
So what can parents do to help children diagnosed with ASD in their early years? Below are some helpful tips for parents.
Tip 1: Make their bedroom free of overstimulation
Autistic children can be overstimulated by loud noises, specific colours, textures, & smells. If possible, try keeping their bedroom free of this sensory overstimulation. Practically, you can use light colours for their bedsheet & curtain, use light colours for painting their bedroom walls as opposed to dark colours, use a blanket with light texture rather than rough ones (for example, the texture of denim jeans), and use rubber-based toys instead of plastic toys which can make a loud noise when thrown down. If possible, keep the bedroom away from the kitchen or living room where cooking smell & activity is high.
Tip 2: Try a variety of meals
It’s a common habit for autistic toddlers to stick to eating one meal for days or weeks. Often the child might stick to cakes & candies throughout the week & have no other meal. This is normal for children diagnosed with autism, so try giving your child a mixture of fruits throughout the day in their snack cups or baggies to eat whenever they want. Although there’s a good chance they’ll reject, especially veggies, it’s better to encourage them with food varieties than stick to junk which might impact their health in the long run.
Tip 3: Use visual timetables to help with transitions
Although not many children with autism are good at sticking with a routine, they’re usually more than capable of following pictures or images, and as such, using a simple hand-drawn or hand-painted picture of the task at hand (e.g., brushing teeth) will help them visualise the task & follow through. Grab a magazine or picture book with simple pictures that match the task at hand, cut & glue it to a blank cardboard chat. It’s much better if the chat is bright in colour & has a picture on it that the child can relate to.
Tip 4: Practice modelling
Most children with autism have trouble understanding abstract concepts such as “I’m sad” or “I feel happy.” In their earlier years, it’s best to teach them about feelings through modelling. For instance, you can try moping around the house with a frown on your face while making an “I’m sad” voice & ask the child if she feels sad too. Then try smiling and laughing with her and ask what kind of mood/emotions she’ll be having if that’s the case.
Tip 5: Encourage play with peers & siblings
Although children diagnosed with autism are more likely to enjoy playing by themselves, it’s better to try to encourage social play between peers or siblings during their earlier years. You can try asking an older sibling if they’d like to invite the autistic child for a simple game of tag or hide & seek. Encouraging social play helps the child be more open with others in their later years.
So that’s my quick list of tips for parents raising children diagnosed with autism. As always, my advice is just that: If you feel as though they’re doing more harm than good, discard it and try something else. Otherwise, we hope you find these tips helpful as you continue to care for your child. Happy parenting!
Bredbenner et al. (2018). Promoting healthy home environments and lifestyles in families with preschool children: HomeStyles, a randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from:https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1551714417303324