As a parent, there are many ways which you can support your child with Autism. It all starts with one critical underlying fact- you are the best person to help your child. You know your child better than anyone else ever will and you spend the most time with them. These two factors provide the best conditions for learning.
Below are some strategies and approaches which you can use:
1. Make a Visual Timetable:
Children with Autism tend to have difficulty transitioning between activities or events. One practical way to address this, is by making a visual timetable to hang up at home. This can be made up of pictures showing different parts of their day in chronological order. For instance, you can have pictures for ‘breakfast’, ‘getting dressed’, ‘brushing teeth’, ‘play time’, ‘learning time’ as well as pictures of places you will go to together when you leave the house. Once your child completes an activity, they can then remove the corresponding picture from the timetable and place it in a ‘finish’ box. A visual timetable will help align your child’s expectations, making transitions easier. It will also allow your child to understand sequencing and that activities eventually come to an end.
2. Decrease Recreational Screen Time:
I have worked with children who are allowed many hours of exposure to recreational iPad games daily. Let’s consider a child who plays games on the iPad for five hours a day, this is FIVE HOURS a day whereby the opportunity to learn new things is foregone. Multiply that by a year and you can start to see the significant impact this can have on development.
Recreational screen time can be gradually decreased until it is limited to one hour per day. For more information on iPad use to best support your child, I have included the link to my previous post 'Your Child & The iPad'.
Meanwhile, try to increase your child’s exposure to programs and toys at home which will stimulate their development. For instance, there are many iPad Apps which can stimulate your child’s speech and language skills. Also, increasing your child’s exposure to pretend play toys is another great way to stimulate their language and cognitive development at home. Pretend play toys include pretend tea sets, food, dolls, action toys, cars and so forth.
3. Watch Your Language!
Children with Autism find abstract concepts and figurative language difficult. To support your child’s understanding during daily interactions, avoid using language which is unclear or requires interpretation. For instance, instead of saying things like, “it’s raining cats and dogs”, try to use literal and straightforward language such as, “it’s raining a lot.”
4. Use Language to Teach, Not Test
Be mindful of whether your language is ‘teaching’ your child or making them feel like they are being ‘tested’. Asking questions such as “what’s this?” or “how many do you see?” do not provide your child with any new learning material and will make them feel like they are being tested. Try to reduce the amount of questions you ask your child. For instance, if your child is holding a toy, use this opportunity to make comments about the object (e.g. “that’s a big blue car!”). This will introduce new words into their vocabulary, without them feeling like they are being tested.
As mentioned in my previous post, children with Autism often have echolalia. This can actually be used as a strength to teach them new words. For instance, after you say “that’s a big, blue car!” it is likely that your child will repeat this. Avoid using directive language to encourage your child to talk, such as, “say big blue car”. Chances are that your child is more likely to repeat these words spontaneously than when they are directed to say them.
5. Show Interest in Their Interests
Parents will often say things to me like “my child just doesn’t interact with me.” One way to address this is to show interest in your child’s interests. For instance, if your child is interested in trains, try to involve toy trains or the topic of trains in your interactions. Try to avoid redirecting their attention to a different toy or changing the topic, instead sustain the interaction until your child initiates the change. By involving your child’s interests in your interactions, your child will be likely to interact with you more often, creating more opportunities for learning.
6. Use Their Strongest Mode of Communication:
Remember that communication involves much more than just talking. Communication also includes using hand signs or pictures to convey messages. Some children with Autism are more comfortable communicating using methods other than talking. Once you know what your child’s strongest communication method is, use this as a tool to communicate with them.
Even though you can offer the best support for your child, you can’t do it alone! There are many professionals who can help your child further their skills in different areas. Below are a few:
Doctors: Children with Autism often experience seizures, allergies, digestive problems and sleeping problems. If your child experiences any of these, voice them to your child’s doctor. By addressing these health factors, you are helping to increase your child’s comfort levels and mood.
Speech Language Therapists: Many children with Autism have a speech and language delay. Most of them can learn to improve their verbal communication skills. However, some children with Autism are non-verbal and unfortunately, remain that way their entire lives. If a child is non-verbal, they can still learn to communicate through hand-sign or pictures. By learning to communicate their needs and wants effectively, children tend to show less self-harm behaviours and tantrums. A Speech Language Therapist can also help to support the development of their social communication skills.
Occupational Therapists: As mentioned in my previous post, children with Autism process sensory information differently to typically developing children. An Occupational Therapist can address this in several different ways. For instance, they can help your child to increase their awareness of when they are experiencing ‘sensory overload’ and teach them effective strategies to regulate their reactions to this.
Play Therapists: A Play Therapist can support your child’s language, cognitive and social development in a fun and engaging way.
Psychotherapist:s Children with Autism often experience anxiety. A Psychotherapist can help to address the anxiety as well as to increase your child’s awareness of their own emotions and teach them to apply effective strategies for dealing with heightened emotions.
Teachers: It is important to adapt your child’s school environment to support their learning needs. For instance, if your child requires high-level support at school, consider employing a full-time shadow teacher to provide one-to-one support. Also, children with Autism often learn best when information is presented visually, by text or by doing things. Once you know what way your child learns best, their classroom teacher can use this approach to support their learning. Teachers can also use a visual timetable in class to support your child’s understanding of the daily sequence and transition between tasks.
There are many ways which you can support your child with Autism. I hope that this post has given you some practical ideas to do so. Remember, you don’t have to do it all alone, there are many people who can help!
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The Expat Speechie
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