Living with Autism: A Parent’s Guide to Daily Challenges
Even if autism is diagnosed early and intensive treatment begins at a young age, there are still special challenges in living with an autistic child – not just for parents, but the entire family.
Here are some tips for you to meet the challenges head on:
Control the Environment
It’s important to keep in mind that many autistic children are hypersensitive to their surroundings, and what might be ordinary background stimuli for you, might be distracting or even painful for your child. So be sure to control the environment. Avoid the extremely bright lights, loud noises or music, strong odors, or other extreme sensory input that can be overstimulating and upsetting.
Keep their Days Structured – and Keep It Simple
Autistic kids thrive within highly structured, predictable schedules so that when they wake up in the morning, they pretty much know how the day is going to go. Keep to a set routine with the main events of the day – wake-up time, meals, quiet time, lights-out – at the same time daily.
Of course, no matter how well you establish a routine, keeping to a set schedule isn’t always possible – unexpected events can turn up. However, a set schedule on most days can decrease the anxiety and stress levels of an autistic child.
It sounds strange, but it is sometimes easy to forget that children with disabilities have the same basic needs as other children – they need a good diet and hydration, adequate sleep, and exercise. This can help strengthen their immune systems, and avoid illness or other health issues.
Staying healthy is especially important for autistic children. Assessing pain and other symptoms is much more difficult when a child cannot communicate what they’re feeling physically. Indeed, with some autistic children, there may be hyposensitivity issues and they might not even be fully aware that they are in pain.
A Word on Diet
So a healthy diet is important – but it can also come with extra challenges.
In regards to food, autistic children can be notoriously fussy eaters and only interested in just a few different foods. Parents who try to introduce new foods into their diet can get frustrated at their child’s consistent refusal. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that it is not always the taste of a food that your child might object to but the texture. If you’re trying to introduce a new food, try to get creative about how you prepare it. For instance, your child might not like mashed potatoes, but will eat them happily if they are cut up in a soup.
Be patient and try not to get frustrated. Eventually, you will find what foods work best for your child and still manage to get in a balanced diet.
Promote Healthy Sleep
Again, like any child, kids with autism do better when they are getting adequate sleep.
This is where a structured schedule will really help. Keep your child get used to waking up at a certain time and going to bed at a certain time each day. It’s okay to experiment with this and find the times that seem to work best for your child’s individual needs.
Also, it is recommended that computer games, televisions, and other electronic devices be kept out of your child’s room. These devices can be very engrossing for your child who can go without sleep in order to stay up playing a game or watching a show.
It Takes a Village...
You cannot raise any child – and especially not an autistic child – alone. You will need be a whole network of people – siblings, extended family members, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, doctors, and teachers – who will also be intimately involved in your child’s life. While it can feel challenging at times, keeping lines of communication open with all these important people will help you keep tabs on how your child is doing, and ultimately make things easier for all of you.
Make Time for Your Whole Family...
Having an autistic child can put a strain on spousal and on parent-child relationships. Siblings of autistic children can feel resentful or abandoned if all of the attention is focused on the autistic child. So make time for all your children and your spouse, and use periods of respite to spend time with them exclusively whenever possible.
At the other end of the spectrum, also try to come up with activities that your whole family can do together. It might take some time to discover things you can all enjoy, but persist until you find the right activities to strengthen family bonds.
... And Also For Yourself!
Caring for a disabled child can be emotionally and physically exhausting. And remember, you are in this for the long haul – so your lifestyle has to be sustainable and not wear you out! That’s why rest and relaxation are so important. Whether it’s with help from a family member, or a professional, make sure that you get time off from “child duty” every week so that you will have time to run errands, get to appointments – or just go for a walk in park and relax. If you’re rested and relaxed, your child will do better as well.
What tricks have you found that makes day to day life with an autistic child go more smoothly? Share with us in the comments below!Tags : health development autism