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SUPER Important Tips for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum

Understanding the implication of ASD (high-functioning autism) can bring a greater level of tolerance and acceptance for those with the condition.  
Here are some traits and behavior patterns commonly seen in ASD:

• A youngster can be helped if parents consistently work with him and highlight his strengths and work consistently on his weaknesses.

• ASD is often detected when a youngster starts preschool. He will generally interact better with his teacher than his peers and may display silly, loud, aggressive or socially withdrawn behavior.

• Kids on the autism spectrum express their feelings in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they may seem emotionless and other times they may display extreme emotion that is not appropriate to the situation.

• Kids with ASD prefer routine and structure and can become irritable and distressed if the unexpected happens.

• Eye contact is not understood or made use of.

• Gross and fine motor skills are often underdeveloped, causing problems in sports and balance.

• Intense preoccupations often center on certain toys or areas of interest. Common obsessions are dinosaurs and forms of transport and how they work.

• Interrupting conversations is a common problem as the youngster does not understand the social signals that allow conversation to move from one to another.

• It is possible to teach social skills but it is a long slow process and often requires parental intervention to repair social damage when they act inappropriately.

• Many kids are perfectionists and struggle if they fail to produce perfect schoolwork. Encourage them to move on, and create distractions if necessary to get them to continue working.

• Most children with the disorder are of average or above average intelligence.

• Older kids may enjoy a club that is focused on their interest – for example, coin or stamp collecting.

• On a positive note, this aversion to rule-breaking means the youngster is less likely to experiment with smoking, drinking, drugs, and sex as he matures.

• Rules are very important and a youngster may become angry if a game is not played fairly or his peers break school rules.

• Short stories can be useful in teaching social skills. Use one page visual aids that teach about listening to others and keeping quiet and still while they talk.

• The youngster may appear cold and uncaring but it is not deliberate. He does not think about others and cannot understand the social graces that keep society functioning.

• They find it hard to generalize. If taught that they shouldn’t hit a youngster at school, they do not automatically make the connection that they shouldn’t hit a youngster in the mall.

• They have excellent thinking skills where things are concerned but are extremely poor at interpreting human relationships.

• They will often seek out other people to talk to about their interests. The conversation is usually one-sided – more like a lecture where they talk about their knowledge and aren't interested in feedback.

• Things are interpreted very literally, meaning that sarcasm, playful teasing and figures of speech are not understood.

There is hope for kids who have autism, and with training and support from their family and health professionals, they can live meaningful, productive lives. 

Here are some important parenting tips to implement ASAP:

1. Although it is not the youngster’s fault, he will still ultimately be the one to take the consequences of his behavior. It will help your youngster if you can explain the consequences clearly and logically when your youngster is able to listen.

2. Celebrate your child’s humor, creativity, and passion.

3. Do you want to understand the child`s actions? Just ask yourself: What behavior would make sense if you only had 4 seconds to live?

4. Don’t argue; nag; or attempt unsolicited and spontaneous transplants of your wisdom to your youngster. Instead, either a) decide that the issue is aggravating but not significant enough to warrant intervention; or b) make an appointment with your youngster to discuss the issue.

5. Especially with teens, negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate. Parents need to model negotiation, not inflexibility. Don’t worry about losing control: the parent always gets to decide when negotiation is over and which compromise is accepted. Remember: negative behaviors usually occur because the child is spinning out of control, not because he is evil. While evil behavior would need to be aggressively squelched, the much more common overwhelmed behavior needs to be calmly defused.

6. Forgive your youngster and yourself nightly. You didn’t ask to live with the effects of ASD any more than did your youngster.

7. Head off big fights before they begin. Seek to diffuse, not to inflame. When tempers flare, allow everyone to cool off. Serious discussion can only occur during times of composure.

8. If it is working, keep doing it. If not, do something else.

9. If your youngster has a meltdown, the most important thing to remember when dealing with these situations is to try to figure out what caused them. Your youngster is not doing this to intentionally annoy you; he is doing it because he has reached his limit of tolerance in whatever he is dealing with. If you feel his meltdown was caused by a change in routine, reassure him of the routine for the rest of the day and that the routine will not change the next day, if that is the case.

10. Imagine your youngster delivering your eulogy. What do you want him to say about you? Keep those bigger goals in mind as you choose your interactions/reactions to your youngster.

11. Instead of punishing wrong behavior, set a reward for the correct behavior you would rather replace it with. Rewards should be immediate, frequent, powerful, clearly defined, and consistent. Also remember that a behavior always gets stronger before it changes.

12. Keep a sense of humor. Seek to enjoy – not to scream.

13. Pick your fights. Is the issue at hand worth chipping away at your relationship with your youngster? Can your youngster really control the offending behavior at this moment?

14. Plan ahead. Give warnings before transitions. Discuss in advance what is expected, and what the results might be. Have the youngster repeat out loud the terms he just agreed to.

15. Recognize that attention issues in the youngster are only the tip of the iceberg that the whole family must address.

16. Remember that a youngster on the spectrum is still a youngster with thoughts and feelings, and that you are the adult this youngster looks to for support and guidance.

17. Remember that these young people have two time frames: Now, and Huh. There is no future. There is only now. The past is non-negotiable.

18. Review this text, and others, periodically. You are going to forget this stuff, and different principles will likely be needed at different stages.

19. The kids who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.

20. The most important thing is to be consistent. Kids with ASD thrive on routine. Everything needs to be done at the same time, in the same way, every day, as much as possible, to give the youngster a sense of safety and security. When there will be a change in your youngster's routine, tell them as far in advance and explain what will happen. When you talk to your child, you should use a calm and even tone of voice, and use explicit language that says exactly what you mean. Do not make requests too complicated or ask a youngster to do things with too many steps at once. Try to keep your language as literal as possible. Try to be very verbal. If your youngster does something right, praise them for it.

21. The patient in ASD is the whole family.

22. This is hard work. It is also hard work for your youngster.

23. This is not a contest with your youngster. The winner is not the one with more points. The winner is the one whose youngster still loves them when they graduate from high school.

24. You do not have a standard youngster. You can view the issue as a disability. Or, you can view it as wonderful uniqueness. Or, you can view it as both. This "disability outlook" will help because it eliminates blame; sets reasonable expectations thereby minimizing anger; and points the way for parents/teachers to see themselves as "therapists" not victims.

25. You will make it through this; you have no choice.

Kids on the spectrum are for the most part bright, happy and loving kids. If we can help break through to their 'own little world' we can help them to cope a little better in society. They have a need to finish tasks they have started. Strategies can be developed to reduce the stress they experience at such times. Warnings that an activity is to finish in x minutes can help with older kids. With younger kids attempts to 'save' the task help - videoing a program, mark in a book, etc.

As the kids mature some problems will get easier, but like all other kids new problems will emerge. Some teenagers can feel the lack of friendships difficult to cope with as they try hard to make friends in their own way but find it hard to keep them. This is not always the case. Many have friends who act as 'buddies' for long periods of time. Social skills will have to be taught in an effort for them to find a place in the world ... so take all opportunities to explain situations time and time again ..... and one may work!

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

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