Friday 1 July 2022

5 tips for parents of recently diagnosed autistic children

When we were told that our first child was diagnosed with autism, we were handed a small bifold leaflet for the National Autistic Society and another for a local organisation that supported parents of children with disabilities. We were referred to Speech and Language and Occupational Therapy but that took a while to start and I didn't know much about what to do to help our son.  Before the kids were born I had a newborn checklist but there wasn't anything to help with what to do following their autism diagnosis.  Here's what I thought could go on such a list.  

Create a safe space

For our autistic children, the most important aspect of their lives is consistency. What this means is that they thrive off of routine, and knowing what to expect at all times. Home needs to be able to offer both physical safety and emotional safety for our kids. 

They require a safe space where they can go and unwind after a long day. Allowing our child to occupy their own space can help them to separate from the world around them and relax. This can help to reduce sensory overload and meltdowns that are often associated with autism. 

A safe space can be anything from a corner of the room to a tent. It can be as elaborate or as simple as you would like it to be and as unique as your child.   So whether it has sensory lights, massive cushions or just all their special items laid out in the right order... go with what works for them. 

Use a variety of ways to communicate

One of the most common traits of autistic children is communication difficulties. Autistic children may struggle to express their feelings verbally, and it can be difficult to understand them. However there are many forms of communication that can support them and you. Visual communication is a great way to combat this issue. You can use things like colour coding, photos, and even symbols. You can also teach and sign language from websites - we used Makaton for years.   These are not to replace verbal communication but assist our kids in understanding and being able to communicate their needs, wants and more.  It also makes it easier for them to understand others and helps them function better socially.

Don't fight alone

As you begin to navigate through life with your autistic child, you will likely come across many challenges. From dealing with other people's misconceptions to managing meltdowns and it can be difficult. As a parent, you want to do all that you can to help your child, seek support so you don't have to  fight battles alone.  Our family have always been very accepting and supportive, even if it's just ot listen to the struggles we may currently have.  

If family is not able to be supportive challenging, or even if they are, it doesn’t hurt to find a support group in your area and join to meet others who are going through the same thing as you.  This can help to create a network of people who know what you are going through and can offer some advice.  Sometimes it helps to know you and your child are not alone in their challenges. 

Help your child build a routine

Routines help many of us organise our lives and they particularly help our autistic children thrive. They  have a calming effect on them. This is because it provides them with a sense of stability and control in an otherwise unpredictable world. This can help to reduce anxiety and meltdowns for them. 

We try to build a routine into your child's day to help them learn how to manage their emotions and behaviour.   This can include sensory activities that can help your child relax. This can be anything from reading to colouring. It can also help to make items in your home consistent, such as keeping toys in the same place. This can help to provide your child with a sense of security. And who knows, you may find that it makes you feel more put together and calm as well.

Provide social support

Autistic children may struggle to build and maintain friendships. This can be due to anxiety, communication, difficulty understanding social cues or a plethora of other things. It is important that autistic children are supported in forming relationships whether that's with adults or their peers.  It's often easier for our kids to form a relationship with the adults at their school than an unknown child in the playground, but both can provide them with opportunities to grow or decide who they want to be around.  

We found an organisation called Skylarks, and amongst other things they can help provide a great environment where our kids can play and do activities around other children who might be similar to themselves and they may have a greater opportunity of understanding too. 

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