Being the parent of any child, while exhilarating, can also be very difficult. But when you’re the parent of an autistic child (autism spectrum disorder -ASD), it can feel overwhelming. There’s a whole world of autism knowledge to learn, not to mention the special needs your child will have.
The bright side is that you’re far from alone. Millions of people have been through it before, and we know more about autism than ever. And when you need a little help, you can refer to this list of tips for coping when you’re parenting an autistic child.
We’ve divided them up into two sections. The first is a set of tips focused on your child and helping them cope with the world. The second focuses on things that can be good for your knowledge base and personal mental health.
For Your Autistic Child
Being the parent of an autistic child is hard, but so is being someone who is autistic in a world designed for people who aren’t. As a parent, part of your job is helping your child learn how to deal with that. What we’ve put together are some tricks and tools you can use to make it happen — when you find what works for your child, it makes everyday life easier for you as well!
Behavior and Communication Therapy
A major part of ASD is issues with personal interaction. But, especially if you get an early diagnosis, therapy can work wonders. Ultimately, behavior and communication are skills that can be improved, even if you have a different starting point. Working with a professional is almost always the best way to do that.
Therapy is the most recommended treatment for autism because it meets your child where they’re at and helps them improve. There are several other kinds of therapies that are also available, like educational or family therapy, and as a parent, you can decide if you think they would be beneficial for your child’s situation.
Tools To Prevent Sensory Overload
Sensory Processing Disorder doesn’t always go along with ASD, but they often go hand-in-hand. The bright side is that there are plenty of tools out there to cope with it. Learning what throws your child into sensory overload and then working with them to find ways around it can be a huge help in everyday life.
Whether that just involves looking for certain kinds of products while shopping, like extra soft clothes that don’t have tags, or buying specific tools, like headphones to muffle sound for loud events, managing sensory processing disorder at home will make everyone feel better.
Set A Routine
Autistic children thrive on structure and routine, so it’s important that you establish one at home that you can stick to every single day. Make it clear exactly what you’ll be doing, when, and what’s next and refer to it regularly so your child feels more in control and knows what to do after finishing each task instead of filling the downtime with problem behavior.
Don’t feel confined to a text schedule or calendar app, either. Many parents have found that visual schedules, with pictures of what your child should be doing, are helpful for kids with communication problems because images are always clear. You can also consider using videos, or something else entirely. Whatever works for your family is what’s best.
Clearly Communicate Changes
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always run on schedule. Sometimes emergencies happen and you have to alter your schedule or make different decisions on the fly. But whenever you can prepare your autistic child for upcoming changes in anything from their schedule to getting new furniture for your home, it’s a good idea.
Start by explaining to your child that something is going to change, and tell them exactly what it is, ideally starting a few days to weeks beforehand. Then work on reminding them about the change into their routine, like bringing it up every day when giving them lunch. They might still get anxious when the change happens, but preparing them for it still makes it easier.
When you become a parent, it takes over a significant amount of your life. But you still have needs that are important, and you can’t pour from an empty cup. So here are some tips for helping you as a parent cope with the everyday realities of having an autistic child.
Find and Accept Help
They say it takes a village to raise a child. When it comes to having a child with autism, between your regular support system and their therapists, doctors, and teachers, that village can feel more like a sizable town. This is a good thing! Your child has special needs, but there are more people who care and want to help.
Accept the help when it is offered, particularly if it comes from someone where it’s free of charge (after all, having a child with autism can be expensive). Whether it’s family or therapists, in the form of expertise, or just a desire to make your life easier, take it. It’s not a failure on your end if you can’t do everything on your own. In fact, it’s impossible to do it alone, so embrace it.
Join Support Groups
No one will ever have your back like your partner, family, and friends. But if they don’t have experience with parenting a child with ASD, then they won’t always understand what it’s like. That’s why it’s invaluable to join communities of people who are going through the exact same thing you are, including a few people who have been there before and can give you advice.
Whether you need a place to vent with parents who get it, suggestions on products to help with sensory processing, or you have questions and you’re not sure where to turn, support groups can give you the backup you need. Go to one in person or join one online, just so long as you make sure you have that resource.
Take Advice With a Grain Of Salt
No one should give a new mom unsolicited advice, but this often happens. Even if you seek out help, other parents still only know what worked for their kids. Dr. Stephen Shore famously said: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” If someone gives you advice that doesn’t work, know that you might not be the one who is wrong.
Expert advice holds more weight since they look at things objectively and are highly educated on the subject, but there’s still so much about ASD that nobody understands. Never be afraid to get a second opinion or disregard advice that isn’t working. Your primary source of information is never someone outside the family, it’s your child and whatever is working for them.
Take Time For Yourself
Being a parent is one of the most wonderful and fulfilling things you’ll ever do, but it’s also exhausting and constant. If you need to have someone else look after your kid and take a day for yourself to relax and unwind, that’s okay. You’re not a bad parent for needing time away from your child.
Use your village (or town) of support and take the day that you need when you need it. Instead of burning out, getting exhausted, and having limited patience, you’ll be rested so that when you’re back to spending time with your child, you’re energized and present.
Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
There are so many things to do and be aware of when you’re the parent of a child with autism that it can feel like you’re always behind and you’re never doing enough. That feeling gets compounded if you’re also working an 8-5 job, even if you know that you need the job to make ends meet. Accept that you’re doing the best you can, and let go of everything else.
Whether you do that with religion and trusting in a higher power, giving yourself a mental health day, or leaning on your friends, when you give yourself a break and acknowledge that you’re not perfect, doing the best you can not only become easier, it becomes a true joy.
Parenting an autistic child won’t be anything like what you expected parenthood to be before. But with some help and a few coping mechanisms, you’ll find that no matter what your child is like, being a parent is one of the best parts of the human experience.
Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.