Parenting a child with autism can be a huge challenge. There are no days off.
There is no sick leave or “mental health days”.
Yes, it can be extremely difficult for a child with autism to navigate the challenges of life. But not many people consider the massive challenges faced by the parents for the most constant and demanding job of their lives.
There is no “parenting” school for parents of any child. But there is even less advice and support for parents with a child on the autistic spectrum.
It can be disturbing, upsetting and very frustrating when parenting a child with autism.
The child may not communicate like their peers, they may not communicate at all. They may appear distant, or be disruptive or be not developing at the same rate as other children in the neighbourhood.
Six Factors To Avoid When Parenting A Child With Autism
Parents are often guilty of comparing one child’s progress against another. This is a terrible idea when parenting any child and especially when parenting a child with autism. Children develop at different rates, at different times and are affected by the disorder to different extents. It is a futile exercise to compare one against the other.
Comparison with other children or competing with other parents can get ugly very quickly!
Never Helicopter Parent
To be honest, this is great advice for all parents. It may feel natural to you to hover over your child even more when they have autism to help them more and protect them.
However leaping in at the slightest challenge or fixing a problem for your child before it has occurred does not do them any good.
It lessens their ability to think, to act and to make decisions. Children with autism need to learn by doing rather than listening and interpreting. They must experience things, try things and learn what the results are.
Help them develop their own strategies to cope if they feel stressed like deep breathing techniques, using their weighted blanket, or simply having some quiet time.
When you step in, you deny them a learning ability and end up making them passive and more reliant on you. You also deny them the thrill of success when they do overcome a challenge. Allow them to experience life even if it means getting a scratch or a bump now and then.
Never Be All “Hands Off”
Some parents believe in a child indulging in self-directed learning and self-discovery. The child is allowed to explore their own interests in the time frame that suits them. This may work very well for some children but tends not to work very at all for kids with autism.
Children with autism need focused parental attention. They need to be encouraged to socialize and learn how to interact and respond appropriately.
Children with autism who are left to their own devices for long periods of time tend to become even more withdrawn and isolated and find it more difficult to fit in.
They need help to build their critical skills as a child so they can develop into an adult who can manage in society. The earlier these skills are taught, the better the outcome. Try to give your child a lot of eye contact, interaction and feedback.
Never Set “Too Low” Expectations
You may feel that as a parent of a child with special needs, that they should not have any discipline at all at home. You may feel that you are doing them a favour by not expecting them to do normal household chores, or control their tantrums or have some quiet time.
However the reverse is true.
Setting reasonable expectations and insisting that certain tasks be done is required of every child and without it, leads to huge social problems down the line.
Here is a useful lecture on parenting strategies when you are parenting a child with autism
Parenting a child with autism requires that you have high expectations for them and encourage, teach and inspire them to achieve it. Remember to check out our post on famous people on the autism spectrum for inspiration. They may need more reminders than other children but ensure they contribute as much as they can.
Never Set “Too High” Expectations
Yes this seems like the opposite of the previous paragraph but if you swing to the opposite extreme and set expectations that are too high, this will lead to disappointment, frustration, guilt and even anger.
A child with autism may have physical, verbal and emotional challenges. Maybe they won’t get straight As, learn three languages fluently and join the Olympic track team.
But they will have other strengths and by providing guidance and feedback, parenting a child with autism can be a rich and rewarding experience. Again strategies to help them concentrate at school like using a weighted lap pad might assist their attention span and focus but try to ensure your expectations are reasonable.
Never Over Schedule Your Child
Be sure to allow your child some free time to think, to play and to “be. Try to avoid the temptation to be always in some sort of therapy or schooling environment.
There are a lot of support services available now which is fantastic but do not find yourself filling the day with speech therapy to preschool to behavioural therapy to physical therapy and so on.
Remember a child with autism needs to time to process what they have learnt, to try things out, to mix with other children and to play. Ensure they have some down time and some quiet time too.
Never Neglect Yourself
Do not forget to care for yourself too!
Parenting a child with autism can be frenetic, overwhelming and stressful. You may sometimes feel your emotional capacity, financial resources and time constraints stretched to the limit.
Remember to reach out to carers or family members now and then. Make sure you schedule some down for you and some relaxation time for you by yourself or with your partner.
You might need a massage, a shopping day, a round of golf and head out with friends and burn off steam.
The more frazzled, and stressed you are, the less helpful it is to the child.
It is like the airlines say “ put your own oxygen mask on first-before the child’s”
Allowing yourself some self-care will allow you to be a better and more loving parent. You will have more to give. And remember you are not allow. Publications like Autism Parenting magazine can be a lifeline for tips and ideas on how to provide the best care for your child.
You have a critically important job to do, so ensure you have the energy and bandwidth to rise to the challenge. There is never any shame is asking for help when parenting a child with autism.
What is your experience parenting a child with autism? Share and let us know and tried and tested tips that work for you…