Tuesday 29 June 2021

Helping autistic kids adjust to a new baby

I remember when we found out our eldest, Anthony, was autistic, I was pregnant with David. Then I was pregnant with Jane when we found out about David. A friend of mine is expecting and as parents of autistic kids often do, we were chatting through how things were and she admitted being nervous about bringing a new baby into the family and how their autistic child might react.  

Any big change can be difficult for our autistic kids.  It can be difficult for them to handle a change in their daily routine, so the idea of a new sibling coming along can be daunting. 

All children need some help adjusting to any new sibling, but autistic children might need a little more support to make it easier for them to manage the big change in their life. Here are some of the things that we thought of to ease the transition for my friend, but many could be adapted for any new sibling coming to the family.

Communicate about it

An expected change can be even more worrying and challenging for an autistic child than one they are expecting.  Communicating about the change as soon as you can is an important part of preparing any  child for a new sibling. Start communicating to them about it when it feels right to you. 

You can take the opportunity to discuss the ways your body is changing and how the baby is growing. It's always helpful to use clear language, such as saying that the baby is growing in your womb and not in your tummy - that can be confusing as that's where food goes. 

You can also talk about what will happen when it's time for the baby to be born, that you will go to the hospital and the doctor will help to get the baby out if you think that's important to your child. 

Visualise how the family will chang

Visualising changes in advance can help to make the adjustment easier. One of the things you can do when there's a baby on the way is to draw pictures of your family with a baby to show your family growing. It can also be a good idea to get out some family photos. You can look at photos of your child as a baby to show them how they've grown. Another idea is to create a book about how your family is growing. You can read this frequently to help your child get used to the idea of the new baby.

Use their learning methods 

All children can learn in different ways, whether they're autistic or neurotypical. Your child might like to learn new things through reading. In this case, there are lots of books about getting a new sibling that you might find helpful or you can create your own. Other children might learn better by watching TV or videos. Many TV shows have episodes about getting a new baby brother or sister. It's also a good time to anticipate any issues that might arise, such as sensory issues. Playing audio of a baby crying can help you to learn how your child might react so you can come up with the right solutions.

Get your child involved in preparation

Getting your child involved in preparing for the new baby can help to make it a more positive and exciting experience. If you need to make changes to your home, your child might help to choose a new bed for their own room or help you look at baby and newborn cradles to find the right one. You might want to practice some things that your child could do to help you when the baby arrives. This could include fetching things for you or handing you things, folding baby clothes, or other simple tasks.  

We have found that changing things around the house work much better when the kids can see them happen.  We had a lot of upset the year the Christmas Tree 'just appeared' and the lounge was all rearranged without seeing it happen. 

Spot other babies 

 This might not be possible for everyone, but visiting other people who have babies can be a useful way to prepare for a new baby. It gives your child a more solid idea of what things are going to look like when the baby is born. You can see how babies behave and talk about the needs and wants of babies. Even if you don't know any babies you can see in person, you can point out babies when you're out and about or even watch videos. If your child is able to understand, some pretend role play with a doll could be a good idea.

Start practicing new routines 

A new baby means a change in how things work at home, including where your attention will be needed. Before the baby arrives, spend some time adjusting to new routines instead of waiting for the baby to arrive. This will also mean that you need to think about the things that you might change to make it easier for everyone to cope, such as having different people helping to care for your existing child or the new baby. 

These are just some ideas, if you have any, please feel free to share with us. 


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