Autism is a condition we hear a lot about but most of us, if we’re really honest with ourselves, don’t truly understand what it is, let alone what it’s like to live with.
We quite often hear someone talked about as ‘on the autism scale’ but chances are they’re not at all. What this actually does is turn a challenging developmental disability into a derogatory term for individuals experiencing social anxiety or simply having poor communication/social skills.
In reality, autism is a life-long disability that impacts on how the person sees the world. People with autism have described the world as overwhelming and they struggle to build relationships. They often struggle with reading facial expressions, tone of voice and jokes & sarcasm are often lost on them.
On top of this they can also suffer from learning disabilities and mental health issues.
Living with autism is a daily challenge not just for the child but for parents of children with autism. This is a life-long disability that cannot be ‘cured’. This presents challenges to parents too as how they live their lives could be forever altered.
In the 80’s mothers were blamed for autism: failing to create a bond with the child being given as one of the main reasons. The harm this did to a generation of young parents was incalculable and whilst we now know much different, there’s no doubt many still feel guilt over such a damning diagnosis.
In truth, raising a child or children with autism is hard. On the surface they can appear frosty, standoffish and even hostile when feeling under pressure or in a confrontational setting.
However a new report (October 2016) has provided evidence that parents who are taught specific engagement skills are far more likely to experience positive outcomes raising children with autism.
The training, centred around intervention training, teaches parents management strategies to handle tantrums, aggression, self injury and refusal to co-operate.
Studies suggest that children with autism who have been parented using these techniques showed a 55% improvement on the Aberrant Behaviour Checklist-Irritability subscale.
Of course this is a new study and so guidance and training will be some time in coming, assuming it gets funded at all.
So what can a parent with a child with autism do to help engage?
1. Give Yourself a Break
You are not a failure. Even if your child has pushed you to the very edge of your sanity, nothing you’ve tried in the past has worked and you’re both left in an axasperated sobbing mess, you have not failed.
Whether you have a child with a developmental issue or not, there are days all parents feel like this. Be compassionate to yourself and accept that parenting is often a battle of wills we don’t always win.
2. The Social Network
There is a wealth of Facebook communities and forums offering advice by parents of autistic children for parents of children with autism. They are full of useful tips and tricks that are, at least, worth a try.
Be prepared for advice you didn’t ask for but take the time to search for the methods and ideas that will work for you and your child.
3. Make a Fool of Yourself
Or at least be prepared to do so. All children respond to things differently. Some children love the outdoors whilst others could while away hours drawing and colouring. Some will choose a cooking show over Paw Patrol. There really is no guessing what will resonate with your child.
The same is true of children with autism. Look at what they engage with and join in, whatever that may be. Take it slow at first as their connections with things are deeply personal.
It’s all about thawing that ‘frosty’ exterior.
4. Get Out
Take your child out. Start small but encourage your child to see and experience the world. Talk about what they’re seeing and how it all fits together. Never assume the things we take for granted make sense to your child whether they have a disability or not.
Getting out and about in a controlled way will help them to develop coping mechanisms.
Insulating them from a busy high street might be the easier option but there will come a time when they’ll have to face these challenges on their own. The more tools in the toolbox you can give them early on, the better.
5. Forget About the Carpet
Engaging your child in messy play can serve as a fun yet insightful way to understand them better.
You can use different creative techniques, symbols and colours to find out what they like, how those things make them feel and through that develop understanding.
Giving your child those ‘tools’ to cope can mean getting creative with how you engage/interact with them. In the same way that you need to observe what they engage with or gravitate towards, try different methods to make it easier for your child to open up.
You may end the day with you, your child, the walls and carpet daubed in paint and glitter but wallpaper can be replaced and clothes washed.
Finally, remember it’s okay to cry. What you’re doing is hard and ultimately thankless. Parenting is continual outpouring of love for someone who is rarely aware of the trouble you go to. It’s okay to feel frustrated and sad sometimes. Just remember, you’re doing great and you’re not alone.
If you would like advice on this or other disabilities, contact us today to speak to a member of the team.