To all of the parents out there who are just beginning the autism journey, you might like to consider the following quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t you are probably right.” It is possible that Mr. Ford was trying to say that what a person chooses to believe might be one of the most important factors in determining an outcome.
With that in mind, here are ten general tips that might be helpful as you set out on your autism journey.
- Arm yourself with as much knowledge about autism as possible. Read books, articles and go to lectures and discussions. One of my favorite books is Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide To Understanding Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other ASDs by Chantal Sicile-Kira and Foreword by Temple Grandin. It does a great job of explaining autism in a user friendly way. The second book is Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohm. This is a heartwarming book written from a child’s perspective and provides some great insights into autism.
- Remember that the term “autism” encompasses a wide spectrum of characteristics and that your child is unique. He/she may or may not exhibit the same characteristics or to the same degree as those children you read about. Always try to see your child as an individual with unique strengths and challenges.
- Form a solid partnership with your child’s teacher, school social worker or school psychologist. Ask questions and ask for suggestions. They may be able to provide some valuable information.
- Provide your child with a picture schedule at home to help him/her manage the day. Prepare your child for any changes in the routine by reviewing the schedule ahead of time.
- Learn as much as you can about sensory integration dysfunction. Make your house as sensory friendly as possible. Depending on your child’s sensory needs you might want to have an indoor swing available, a bean -bag chair and/or a quiet space your child can curl up in. Specific recommendations will be made by the Occupational Therapist who evaluates your child. The Occupational Therapist might recommend a sensory diet that can be followed both at school and at home.
- Try not to be pulled in by people who offer a quick fix for autism. There are no quick fixes but progress can be made when appropriate interventions are put in place.
- Join a forum online or a support group in your town. Spend time talking with people who are facing similar challenges. Family and friends might be kind and supportive but you will need people in your life who can truly understand, and who have first hand information regarding your experiences with autism.
- Celebrate each small step as you watch your child gain new skills.
- Identify the things your child likes and provide them as motivators for desired behaviors. For example, if you want your child to be able to get into the car with seat belt fastened without an outburst you might want to offer a favorite toy (only used in the car) once he is settled into the car. Your child will begin to look forward to the toy and, given time and consistency, will learn to get into the car appropriately without an outburst.
- Have your child evaluated early, as soon as you might suspect that he/she is having difficulty with language, sensory input and/or social skills. Get a thorough evaluation including a list of well thought out recommendations and ask for help from the evaluator regarding following through on the recommendations.
So, as you begin your autism journey, expect a number of hills, valleys and detours along the way. As with any child, there will be moments of great joy and moments of disappointment. As you travel on, you might want to consider what Jerry Newport wrote in Your Life is Not a Label: “I know of nobody who is purely autistic or purely neurotypical. Even God had some autistic moments, that is why all planets spin.”
Joan Nash graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in Psychology. She later graduated from Northeastern University with a Master’s in Special Education and finally from Eastern Michigan University with a Specialist’s degree in School Psychology.
Joan began working as a School Psychologist in 1980 in Michigan. When she moved to Connecticut in 1988 she first worked as a School Psychologist in the Middle School in Brookfield Ct and in 1990 began working in an elementary school in Danbury CT. Joan has worked in elementary schools in Danbury for the last twenty years. She has worked with a variety of children in both special and regular education. She specializes in working with children on the autism spectrum and particularly in the areas of communication and social skills.
In 2008 Joan launched Children Succeed (www.childrensucceed.com), an online company offering research based games and activities that improve communication and social skills in children with autism and Asperger Syndrome. All of the games are designed not only to improve skills but also to foster self- esteem and feelings of accomplishment in autistic children. Joan has used the knowledge gained over two decades of working with special needs children to produce innovative games and learning tools that help children on the autism spectrum to succeed.