Having a child with autism requires taking a proactive approach to learning about the condition and its treatment while working closely with others involved in your child's care. You also need to take care of yourself so that you are able to face the many challenges of having a child with autism.
Educate yourself about autism
Ask your doctor or contact autism groups to find training about autism and how to manage symptoms. Parent and family education can reduce family stress and improve a child's functioning. Understanding the condition and knowing what to expect is an important part of helping your child develop independence.6
Become informed about your child's educational rights. Federal laws require services for handicapped children, including those with autism. Also, there may be state and local laws or policies to aid children who have autism. Find out what services are available in your area.
Learning about autism will also help prepare you for when your child reaches adulthood. Some adults with autism can live by themselves, work, and be as independent as other people their age. Others need continued support.
Work closely with others who care for your child
Close communication with others involved in your child's education and care will help all concerned. The best treatment for children with autism is a team approach and a consistent, structured program. Everyone involved needs to work together to set goals for:
- Identifying and managing symptoms of autism and any related conditions.
- Behavior and interactions with family and peers, adjustment to different environments, and social and communication skills.
Work closely with the health professionals involved in your child's care. It is important that they take time to listen to your concerns and are willing to work with you.
Promote healthy growth and development
Children as young as preschool age benefit from exercise and fitness as much as adults do. The same is true for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), such as autism. Not only does physical activity promote a healthy weight and body, but it also provides opportunities to build self-esteem, confidence, and friendships with other children. For children with ASDs, these social benefits may be especially important. Work with your child's doctors to learn how physical activities may be best worked into your child's routine.
Children with ASDs may be especially interested in video games, computers, or other screen-based media such as TV. If possible, keep televisions, video games, and computers out of your child's bedroom. When children with ASDs have these devices in their bedroom, they are more likely to sleep fewer hours. This is especially true when video games are in the bedroom. If your child doesn't get enough sleep, his or her ASD symptoms may be worse.
Children with autism often have picky eating habits or may take a long time to acquire tastes for new foods. This can be frustrating for parents. One reason for picky eating may not be because of how the food tastes, but because of how it feels or its texture. Children with autism are very sensitive to textures. You may try preparing the food in a different way, such as blending a banana in a smoothie instead of having your child eat the banana.
Take care of yourself
Learn ways to handle the normal range of emotions, fears, and concerns that go along with raising a child who has autism. The daily and long-term challenges put you and your other children at an increased risk for depression or stress-related illnesses. The way you handle these issues influences other family members.
- Get involved in a hobby, visit with friends, and learn ways to relax.
- Seek and accept support from others. Consider using respite care, which is a family support service that provides a break for parents and siblings. Also, support groups for parents and siblings are often available. People who participate in support groups can benefit from others' experiences. For more information on support groups in your area, contact the Autism Society of America at www.autism-society.org.
- Talk with a doctor about whether counseling would help if you or one of your children is having trouble handling the strains related to having a family member with autism.