Assisting Children with High-Functioning Autism: Parenting Tips & Treatment Techniques

"We have recently learned that our daughter has (or might have) High-Functioning Autism, and we're wondering about what comes next. We were not prepared to hear that she is anything other than happy and healthy, and this diagnosis is particularly worrisome."

You may be unsure about how to best help your youngster or confused by conflicting treatment advice. Also, you may have been told that High-Functioning Autism (HFA) is an incurable, lifelong condition, leaving you concerned that nothing you do will make a difference.

While it is true that HFA is not something a child simply "grows out of," there are many treatments that can help kids learn new skills and overcome a wide variety of developmental challenges. From free government services to in-home behavioral therapy and school-based programs, assistance is available to meet your youngster's special needs. With the right treatment plan, and a lot of love and support, your youngster can learn, grow, and thrive.

Here is a comprehensive list of things to consider:

1. Accept your youngster, quirks and all. Rather than focusing on how your HFA youngster is different from other kids and what he or she is “missing,” practice acceptance. Enjoy your kid’s special quirks, celebrate small successes, and stop comparing your youngster to others. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your youngster more than anything else.

2. Be consistent. Kids with High-Functioning Autism have a hard time adapting what they’ve learned in one setting (e.g., a therapist’s office or school) to other settings, 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 techniques at home. Explore the possibility of having therapy take place in more than one place in order to encourage your youngster to transfer what he or she has learned from one environment to another. It’s also important to be consistent in the way you interact with your youngster and deal with challenging behaviors.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

3. Become an expert on your youngster. Figure out what triggers your kid’s “bad” or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your HFA youngster find stressful? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects your youngster, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing situations that cause difficulties.

4. Caring for a youngster with High-Functioning Autism can demand a lot of energy and time. There may be days when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or discouraged. Parenting isn’t ever easy, and raising a youngster with HFA is even more challenging. It’s essential that you take care of yourself in order to be the best mother or father you can be. Don’t try to do everything on your own. You don’t have to! There are many places that families of HFA children can turn to for advice, a helping hand, advocacy, and support.

5. Create a home safety zone. Carve out a private space in your home where your youngster can relax, feel secure, and be safe. This will involve organizing and setting boundaries in ways he 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 he is prone to tantrums or other self-injurious behaviors.

6. Don’t give up. 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, people with High-Functioning Autism have an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities.

7. Don’t wait for a diagnosis. As the mother or father of a youngster with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, 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 HFA 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 the symptoms of HFA.

8. Every mother or father needs a break now and again. And for moms and dads 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.

9. Figure out the need behind the temper 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 kids with High-Functioning Autism act out, it’s often because you’re not picking up on their nonverbal cues. Throwing a tantrum is their way communicating their frustration and getting your attention.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

10. If stress, anxiety, or depression is getting to you, you may want to see a therapist of your own. Therapy is a safe place where you can talk honestly about everything you’re feeling—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Marriage or family therapy can also help you work out problems that the challenges of life with an HFA youngster are causing in your spousal relationship or with other family members.

11. HFA infants and toddlers through the age of two can receive assistance through the Early Intervention program. In order to qualify, your youngster must first undergo a free evaluation. If the assessment reveals a developmental problem, you will work with early intervention treatment providers to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). An IFSP describes your youngster’s needs and the specific services he or she will receive. For High-Functioning Autism, an IFSP would include a variety of behavior, physical, speech, and play therapies. It would focus on preparing HFA children for the eventual transition to school. Early intervention services are typically conducted in the home or at a childcare center. To locate local early intervention services for your youngster, ask your doctor for a referral.

12. Joining a support group is a great way to meet other families dealing with the same challenges you are. 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 many moms and dads feel after receiving the youngster’s diagnosis.

13. Keep in mind that no matter what treatment plan is chosen, your involvement is vital to 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.

14. HFA kids over the age of three may receive assistance through school-based programs. As with early intervention, special education services are tailored to your youngster’s individual needs. Kids with HFA are often placed with other developmentally-delayed children in small groups where they can receive more individual attention and specialized instruction. However, depending on their abilities, they may also spend at least part of the school day in a regular classroom. The goal is to place children in the least restrictive environment possible where they are still able to learn. If you’d like to pursue special education services, your local school system will first need to evaluate your youngster. Based on this assessment, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be created. An IEP outlines the educational goals for your youngster for the school year. Additionally, it describes the special services or aids the school will provide your youngster in order to meet those goals.

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook
15. Learn about High-Functioning Autism. The more you know about HFA, 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.

16. Look for nonverbal cues. If you are observant and aware, you can learn to pick up on the nonverbal cues that kids with High-Functioning Autism use to communicate. Pay attention to the kinds of sounds they make, their facial expressions, and the gestures they use when they’re tired, hungry, or want something.

17. Make time for fun. A youngster coping with High-Functioning Autism is still a kid. For kids and their moms and dads, 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 the things that make her smile, laugh, and come out of her shell. Your youngster 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 her enjoyment of spending un-pressured time with you.  Play is an essential part of learning and shouldn’t feel like work.

18. Pay attention to your youngster’s sensory sensitivities. Many kids with High-Functioning Autism are hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Other kids are “under-sensitive” to sensory stimuli. Figure out what sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations trigger your kid’s “bad” or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your HFA youngster find stressful? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects your youngster, you’ll be better at trouble-shooting problems, preventing situations that cause difficulties, and creating successful experiences.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

19. Reward good behavior. Positive reinforcement can go a long way with kids with High-Functioning Autism, so make an effort to “catch them doing something good.” Praise them when they act appropriately or learn a new skill, being very specific about what behavior they’re being praised for. Also look for other ways to reward them for good behavior (e.g., giving them a sticker, letting them play with a favorite toy, etc.).

20. Stick to a schedule. Kids with High-Functioning Autism tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. This goes back to the consistency they both need and crave. Set up a schedule for your youngster, 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 him for it in advance.

21. Under the U.S. federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), kids with disabilities—including those with HFA—are eligible for a range of free or low-cost services. Under this provision, kids in need and their families may receive:
  • assisted technology devices
  • medical evaluations
  • parent counseling and training
  • physical therapy
  • psychological services
  • speech therapy
  • other specialized services

Kids under the age of 10 do not need a diagnosis to receive free services under IDEA. If they are experiencing a developmental delay, including delays in communication or social development, they are automatically eligible for early intervention and special education services.

22. With so many different treatments available, it can be tough to figure out which approach is right for your youngster. Making things even more complicated, you may hear different or even conflicting recommendations from other moms and dads – and even doctors. When putting together a treatment plan for your youngster, keep in mind that there is no single treatment that will work for everyone. Each child with High-Functioning Autism is unique, with different strengths and weaknesses.

23. Your youngster’s treatment should be tailored according to his or her individual needs. You know your youngster best, so it’s up to you to make sure those needs are being met. You can do that by asking yourself the following questions:
  • How does my youngster learn best (e.g., through seeing, listening, or doing)?
  • What are my youngster’s strengths?
  • What are my youngster’s weaknesses?
  • What behaviors are causing the most problems?
  • What does my youngster enjoy and how can those activities be used in treatment?
  • What important skills is my youngster lacking?

24. Know that a good treatment plan will:
  • Actively engage your youngster's attention in highly structured activities
  • Build on your youngster's interests
  • Offer a predictable schedule
  • Provide regular reinforcement of behavior
  • Involve the moms and dads
  • Teach tasks as a series of simple steps

25. Know your youngster’s rights. As the mother or father of an HFA youngster, you have a legal right to:
  • Seek an outside evaluation for your youngster
  • Request an IEP meeting at any time if you feel your youngster’s needs are not being met
  • Invite anyone you want—from a relative to your youngster’s doctor—to be on the IEP team
  • Free or low-cost legal representation if you can’t come to an agreement with the school
  • Disagree with the school system’s recommendations
  • Be involved in developing your youngster’s IEP from start to finish

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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