10 ways to help your autistic child



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SuperTrouper
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19 Jul 2010, 11:21 am

Well, 3 AM has come and gone. I just realized that I didn't take my PM meds (which includes melatonin)... and therefore I'm a solid hour away from any kind of decent sleep. I'm also ridiculously itchy (no, seriously, you have NO idea) because I was so attracted to the little colored sprinkle-covered cupcakes at work that I just had to have 2 of them. In the meantime, I thought I'd write some. This is probably a good time to mention that I left my glasses on my beside table and therefore may or may not catch typos, of which I am the queen. Sorry in advance.

These are in no particular order (meaning, as they pop into my mind), though I will number them 10 to 1. I will use the pronoun "he" for the sake of simplicity and statistics.

10. On a day when he is particularly hard to handle, make a list of the things you love about your child. Share it with someone (spouse, coworker, siblibg, pastor, friend; if you're still stuck, heck, I'll listen). But how does this help the child? It reminds you of why you love him so much, reorients your attitude, reminds you of why you do so much for this little person. Your improved attitude will have a positive effect on your child. I promise, we can tell when you're upset with us.

9. Allow your child a chunk of time to engage in or talk about his very favorite thing with you, completely unbridled. People with autism spend so much time either self-redirecting or being redirected, that it often feels like we never get to really dig into what we love without the accompanying being cut off or redirected. Personally, every time I talk about cats, it's overshadowed by the nagging though that Leigh or Mom or Sister doesn't really want to hear about them. They certainly never ask about Elsie. So for a bit of time, just let him be obsessed. Obsess with him. Pretend that what you're hearing is the most fascinating thing you've heard all week. This subject is where he shines, whether it be bus schedules, the early years of the Beatles, or Thomas the Tank Engine.

8. Label emotions for your child early and often. Last night, an unimportant but abrupt change in plans left me frazzled. First thing's first; I picked up my kitty. Then I said, "Mom. I'm upset." No response. "Mom, did you hear me? I'm upset." The words felt unsettling. "Mom, I'm telling you something. I'M UPSET!" It struck both my mother and I that this was the first time in... ever, maybe?.... that I'd come to her and labeled an emotion without prompting and without just acting out. This should not have taken 22 and 7/12 years to happen. Don't let this be the case for your child. Ask your child frequently, "How do you feel?" You may need to offer suggestions or options at first, but never stop asking.

7. Model, model, model. Rinse and repeat. Model language, dealing with emotions, and facial expressions. Overexaggerate and explain, step-by-step, what you're doing and why you're doing. "Do you see that my eyebrows are pointing inward and how my mouth is puckered? My face is telling you that I'm angry." "Hey, let's get your new school shoes when we go to the mall to get so-and-so's birthday present. People say that we'll 'kill two birds with one stone.' That's a silly way of saying we'll get two things done with one action." "Oops; I expected the ice cream shop to be open. It's probably closed early because it's a weeknight. I feel very disappointed about that because I was expecting ice cream from this shop. But we can either go get ice cream somewhere else, or we can wait until tomorrow. Which would you prefer?"

6, Limit choices. If your child takes an hour to get dressed in the morning because nothing feels right, step 1 is to reassess his wardrobe and make sure that he owns only clothing that feels comfortable. Style comes second. That makes step 2 possible, which is to say "You can wear jeans or sweatpants today. Which would you like?" Do not allow him to pick any outfit from amongst 10. When you go to the store to spend his birthday money, rather than allowing him free reign of the toy section, say, "Would you like a game or some Legos? It's your choice." Obviously pick 2 things you know he likes, but do not allow him to choose Option C. Children, especially those of the autistic variety, become very easily overwhelmed with too many choices. For a young child, 2 is plenty. Expand the number of choices at your own discretion, but even as an adult, your child may struggle with this and need you to artificially limit his options.

5. Be flexible. If your child prefers to sleep on the floor rather than in his bed, simply move the mattress to the floor. If he complains that his pajamas hurt, let him sleep in his underwear. If he wants to watch pre-school directed television when he's 18 years old, who's he hurting? Realize that children with autism, by the nature of their developmental disability, show very scattered skills and abilities. He may be able to drive like a 16-year-old, follow stories like a 6-year-old, read like a 10-year-old, and express emotions like a pre-schooler. Don't look at your child as the age he is but rather as the age at which he functions in each specific area. Cater to these as best you can, because your child cannot help it.

4. Use play to engage. If your daughter likes dolls, a dollhouse is the perfect toy with which to practice language, emotions, and interaction. If your son likes cars and trains, Thomas the Tank Engine characters have faces and speak and can be used to act. Many children like plastic animal figurines, which can be used in the same way. Encourage this type of play with an adult, older sibling, therapist, peers... all of the above.

3. Communication options. Regardless of how verbal your child may seem, teach him at least one alternative method of communication (PECS, sign language, typing, text-to-speech, etc). I was very verbal at a young age (2, 3), but the topics on which I can be verbal have always been limited. As I've grown older, I've learned to take fragments of things I've either said in the past or have heard others say and piece them together so that it sounds like intelligble speech. It's really complex delayed echolalia. Very little of what I say out loud is both my own and novel. In order to produce new ideas, I need to write. In order to process, I need to write. In fact, and this may not make sense, I often do not process what I say. I can piece the fragments together and form a response based on what I know I should say, but most often, it would be impossible for me to repeat what I've just said to you, because I never processed it. Part of my brain gets left out. Even if it appears that your child is keeping up verbally, if he is on the autism spectrum, there is a good chance that a second means of communication would serve him well.

2. Don't be scared of different. If I want to use a TTS in public and I'm not afraid of "what people will think," you had better not be either. If your child wants to wear clothing that he finds comfortable and you find unattractive, and you've explained that "people typically do not wear clothing like that. They may look at you and think you are strange" and your child has no problem with that, then let him be. If he wants to text and wear headphones during church because it's the only way he can possibly stand to be in that crowded room right then, and you're afraid people will think he's rude, then I question why you're trying to impress people at church. If you know your child can only process auditory information when his hands are doing something (for me, it's Spider Solitaire on the computer), but it looks like he isn't listening, I ask you: Would you rather have him hear you, or look like he hears you?

1. Be consistent. If you're upset, stressed, scared, overwhelmed, and yes even exuberant, keep your expressions of intense emotion to a minimum. They will confuse your child. Children with autism need their parents to be the same, above all else. It's okay to practice labeling and expressing emotions, but only insofar as your child can understand them and can do the same for his own emotions. I am grateful for almost nothing more than the fact that my mom has always been rock steady in every way. You can use a lot of words to describe people on the autism spectrum, but "forward thinking" isn't usually one of them... we live in the here and now, and if here and now is confusing or not right, then our worlds crumble. We can't see beyond the right now to the what will be. We like routine because it's consistent. Bedtime needs to have the same routine, day in and day out, as does wake-up time, meal time, and time to go to the grocery store. It may be boring to you, but it will make for a much happier child. If something different is going to happen, please let us know what to expect and remind us several times. Check for understanding.


I don't have an intelligent way to end this, because an hour and a half later, my melatonin is kicking in... big time.

Takin' my kitty and goin' to bed.



Kailuamom
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19 Jul 2010, 11:48 am

Thanks so much! Can I ask some follow up questions? I am assuming you are saying yes, so I will ask:

You say......

Don't be scared of different. If I want to use a TTS in public and I'm not afraid of "what people will think," you had better not be either. If your child wants to wear clothing that he finds comfortable and you find unattractive, and you've explained that "people typically do not wear clothing like that. They may look at you and think you are strange" and your child has no problem with that, then let him be. If he wants to text and wear headphones during church because it's the only way he can possibly stand to be in that crowded room right then, and you're afraid people will think he's rude, then I question why you're trying to impress people at church. If you know your child can only process auditory information when his hands are doing something (for me, it's Spider Solitaire on the computer), but it looks like he isn't listening, I ask you: Would you rather have him hear you, or look like he hears you? "

I am totally fine with this premise, EXCEPT, my child wants to be accepted and when he does stuff or wears stuff that is considered odd by his peers, that isn't helping him be accepted. As a matter of fact, depending on the situation, it may really hurt his being accepted.

Usuing your examples - church, yeah you are right, doesn't really matter what people think.

What clothes to wear though, can really impact how the other kids "see" you. If you are trying to gain acceptance with that group, what does the mom do to be most helpful? I have worked really hard to be sure when I try to get him to change clothes that it matters - for instance when we went to the movies this weekend and I started to tell him to change clothes, I realized it didn't matter and told him to wear what he wants.

This issue is really hard because he WANTS to be seen as "cool" which can be difficult. In addition to be seen as "cool" he will wear stuff that I think bugs him and will make him more likely to have a meltdown. For instance clothes that he thinks are cool but no longer fit properly, so they are neither cool or comfortable.

So.... How am I to be most helpful?

BTW - thanks all of the 10 things are helpful.



annotated_alice
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19 Jul 2010, 3:32 pm

I like this list. Great job! :)



Marcia
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19 Jul 2010, 4:21 pm

Thank you for this. :D Some of these things I do, some I should do more, and some I need to start doing.

I hope you got a good sleep once the melatonin kicked in and thanks again for spending your time so constructively and thoughtfully while you were waiting. :)



DW_a_mom
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19 Jul 2010, 6:20 pm

I'm sorry to hear you couldn't sleep, but that was a nice productive way to use your extra time. Thanks.


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Mom to an amazing AS boy (plus a non-AS daughter; both teenagers now). Most likely part of the "Broader Autism Phenotype" (some traits).


SuperTrouper
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19 Jul 2010, 7:03 pm

Kailuamom wrote:
Thanks so much! Can I ask some follow up questions? I am assuming you are saying yes, so I will ask:

I am totally fine with this premise, EXCEPT, my child wants to be accepted and when he does stuff or wears stuff that is considered odd by his peers, that isn't helping him be accepted. As a matter of fact, depending on the situation, it may really hurt his being accepted.

Usuing your examples - church, yeah you are right, doesn't really matter what people think.

What clothes to wear though, can really impact how the other kids "see" you. If you are trying to gain acceptance with that group, what does the mom do to be most helpful? I have worked really hard to be sure when I try to get him to change clothes that it matters - for instance when we went to the movies this weekend and I started to tell him to change clothes, I realized it didn't matter and told him to wear what he wants.

This issue is really hard because he WANTS to be seen as "cool" which can be difficult. In addition to be seen as "cool" he will wear stuff that I think bugs him and will make him more likely to have a meltdown. For instance clothes that he thinks are cool but no longer fit properly, so they are neither cool or comfortable.

So.... How am I to be most helpful?



I agree with you that there are times at which your son should be allowed to wear what he pleases. Continue with this.

You need to make his entire wardrobe acceptable, both in style and in comfort. This may take some hard work. If it means the same pair of pants 6 times over and the same shirt in 6 different colors, so be it. You may have to do laundry more frequently than you are doing it now. If he is dressed in strictly-at-home clothes and it's time to go out, you choose two (pre-comfort-approved) outfits and say, "You can wear this, or that. You pick." You know he approved them already for comfort so the clothes won't hurt his skin. If he refuses to change his clothes, simply say, "Where we live, people dress a certain way. These clothes do not fit in. If you wear these clothes, the other children may look at you and think you're strange. Is that okay?" If he says yes, let him go. If he says no, say, "Choose this outfit, or that outfit."



Kailuamom
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19 Jul 2010, 7:14 pm

Thanks! That was exactly what I needed. I guess I need to remove the cool, but not very comfortable clothing from the closet!



angelbear
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19 Jul 2010, 10:51 pm

Thanks for posting this. I had a tough day with my son today, and I needed to be reminded of the things that he just can't help. I want to be the best mother that I can be for him, so this list really helps to remind me of what to focus on.



rideon
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22 Jul 2010, 4:39 pm

Thank you, my son is challenging at times being a 4yr old he lashes out and hits often ect.. insists on the same movie, or toy or play or repeats movies and lines endlessly. He has the ability to answer questions in sentences and follows directions but sometimes he is just so contrary its like everything has to be opposite.

As a mom I am very fly by the seat of my pants in nature, not steady, not a rock, this has been very grounding for me but being an emotional person I think a little has helped him. He understands sad, happy, angry, and even cried at a movie yesterday when he thought the main character was dead !



iluvgsus
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22 Jul 2010, 5:34 pm

Thank you for this!



loli
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17 Mar 2011, 8:54 am

I think every person should read this and do it .
especially for people to always be the same . I would like that yeah alot .And one more thing .please keep patient . communication with choices can take a long time .



bjtao
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17 Mar 2011, 10:05 am

Thank you. I needed to read these 10 things as a reminder.



momsparky
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17 Mar 2011, 10:20 am

So glad this thread got bumped! I lost it a while back...now I'm going to tag it.



spectrummom
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17 Mar 2011, 11:41 am

Thank you thank you thank you for your very insightful and articulate tips.



Teebst
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17 Mar 2011, 3:21 pm

Wow! What a great thread!



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