Moms and dads can do a lot to help their kids with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. But, it's important to make sure you get the support you need. When you're raising a youngster on the autism spectrum, taking care of yourself is not an act of selfishness—it's a necessity! Being emotionally strong allows you to be the best mother or father you can be to your “special needs” son or daughter.
If you've recently learned that your youngster has High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s (AS), you're probably wondering and worrying about what comes next. No parent is ever prepared to hear that a youngster is anything other than happy and healthy, and a formal diagnosis can be particularly scary. You may be unsure about how to best help your youngster. You might be confused by conflicting treatment advice. You may have been told that High-Functioning Autism is an incurable, lifelong condition, leaving you concerned that nothing you do will make a difference. These are all common responses.
While it is true that High-Functioning Autism is not something a child simply "out-grows," there are many treatments that can help these kids learn new skills and overcome a wide variety of developmental challenges. Assistance is available to meet your youngster's special needs. With the right treatment plan and a lot of love and support, your youngster will learn, grow and thrive.
Best tips for parents with newly diagnosed children on the autism spectrum:
1. Rather than focusing on how your HFA or AS youngster is different from other kids and what he is “missing,” practice acceptance. Enjoy your kid’s special quirks, celebrate small successes, and stop comparing him to others. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your youngster more than anything else.
2. Kids with High-Functioning Autism have a hard time adapting what they’ve learned in one setting (e.g., the therapist’s office or school) to others, including the home. Creating consistency in your youngster’s environment is the best way to reinforce learning. Find out what your youngster’s therapists are doing and continue their strategies at home. Explore the possibility of having therapy take place in more than one place in order to encourage your youngster to transfer what she has learned from one environment to another. Also, be consistent in the way you interact with your youngster and deal with challenging behaviors.
3. Become an expert on your youngster. Figure out what triggers his disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your HFA youngster find stressful? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects him, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing situations that cause problems.
4. When it comes to treatment for High-Functioning Autism, there are a variety of therapies. Some focus on reducing problematic behaviors and building communication and social skills, while others deal with sensory integration problems, motor skills, emotional issues, and food sensitivities. With so many choices, it is extremely important to do your research, talk to treatment experts, and ask questions. But keep in mind that you don't have to choose just one type of therapy. The goal of treatment should be to treat all of your youngster's symptoms and needs. This often requires a combined treatment approach that takes advantage of many different types of therapy. Common HFA treatments include speech-language therapy, play-based therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nutritional therapy, and behavior therapy.
5. Secure a private spot in your home where your youngster can relax, feel secure, and be safe. This will involve organizing and setting boundaries in ways your youngster can understand. Visual cues can be helpful (e.g., colored tape marking areas that are off limits, labeling items in the house with pictures). You may also need to safety-proof the house, particularly if your youngster is prone to wild tantrums or other self-injurious behaviors.
6. Create a personalized treatment plan. And keep in mind that no matter what treatment plan is chosen, your involvement is vital to its success. You can help your youngster get the most out of treatment by working hand-in-hand with the treatment team and following through with the therapy at home. When putting together a treatment plan for your youngster, remember that there is no single treatment that will work for every child. Each boy or girl with High-Functioning Autism is unique, with different strengths and weaknesses. Good questions to get answers to include: How does your youngster learn best (e.g., through seeing, listening, or doing)? What are your youngster’s strengths? What are your youngster’s weaknesses? What behaviors are causing the most problems? What does your youngster enjoy and how can those activities be used in treatment? And, what important skills is your youngster lacking? A good treatment plan will: (a) teach tasks as a series of simple steps; (b) provide regular reinforcement of behavior; (c) offer a predictable schedule; (d) involve the mother and father; (e) build on the youngster's interests; and (f) actively engage the youngster's attention in highly structured activities.
7. Think positive. It’s impossible to predict the course of High-Functioning Autism. Don’t jump to conclusions about what life is going to be like for your youngster. Like everyone else, children on the spectrum have an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities.
8. As the parent of a youngster with High-Functioning Autism, the best thing you can do is to start treatment right away. Seek help as soon as you suspect something’s wrong. Don't wait to see if your youngster will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Don't even wait for an official diagnosis. The earlier kids with on the autism spectrum get help, the greater their chance of treatment success. Early intervention is the most effective way to speed up your youngster's development and reduce related symptoms.
9. Every mother or father needs a break now and again. And for a parent coping with the added stress of High-Functioning Autism, this is especially true. In respite care, another caregiver takes over temporarily, giving you a break for a few hours, days, or even weeks. Look for respite care options in your area.
10. Figure out the need behind the tantrum. It’s only natural to feel upset when you are misunderstood or ignored, and it’s no different for kids with High-Functioning Autism. When an HFA boy or girl acts-out, it’s often because the parent is not picking up on the child’s nonverbal cues. Throwing a tantrum is his or her way of communicating frustration and getting the parent’s attention.
11. If stress, anxiety, or depression is getting to you, see a therapist of your own. Therapy is a safe place where you can talk honestly about everything you’re feeling. Marriage or family therapy can also help you work out problems that the challenges of life with an HFA youngster are causing in your marriage or with other family members.
12. Joining a support group is a great way to meet other parents dealing with the same challenges. Moms and dads can share information, get advice, and lean on each other for emotional support. Just being around others in the same boat and sharing their experience can go a long way toward reducing the isolation you may feel after receiving your youngster’s diagnosis.
13. Know your youngster’s rights. As the mother or father of an HFA youngster, you have a legal right to: (a) seek an outside evaluation for your youngster; (b) request an IEP meeting at any time if you feel your youngster’s needs are not being met; (c) invite anyone you want—from a relative to your youngster’s physician—to be on the IEP team; (d) free or low-cost legal representation if you can’t come to an agreement with the school; (e) disagree with the school system’s recommendations; and (f) be involved in developing your youngster’s IEP from start to finish.
14. Learn as much as you can about High-Functioning Autism. The more you know about it, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions for your youngster. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in all treatment decisions.
15. A youngster coping with High-Functioning Autism is still a kid. For both you and your child, there needs to be more to life than therapy. Schedule playtime when your youngster is most alert and awake. Figure out ways to have fun together by thinking about things that make your youngster smile, laugh, and come out of his shell. He is likely to enjoy these activities most if they don’t seem therapeutic or educational. There are tremendous benefits that result from your enjoyment of your youngster’s company – and from his enjoyment of spending un-pressured time with you. Play is an essential part of learning and shouldn’t feel like work.
16. Pay attention to your youngster’s sensory sensitivities. Many kids with High-Functioning Autism are hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Other HFA kids are “under-sensitive” to sensory stimuli. Figure out what sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations trigger your kid’s disruptive behaviors – and what elicits a positive response. What does she find stressful? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects her, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing situations that cause difficulties.
17. Positive reinforcement can go a long way with HFA kids, so make an effort to “catch your child doing something good.” Praise him when he acts appropriately or learns a new skill, being very specific about what behavior he is being praised for. Also look for other ways to reward him for good behavior (e.g., giving him a sticker, letting him play with a favorite game, etc.).
18. Kids with High-Functioning Autism tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. They need and crave consistency. Set up a schedule with regular times for meals, therapy, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare your youngster for it in advance.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook