Helping a child with autism:tips for parents and educators

Jenny Wise


For a child on the autism spectrum, daily activities can be frightening, stressful challenges that leave parents, siblings, and educators feeling frustrated in their own abilities to help. When you want a child to feel comfortable, safe, and happy, it can be truly heartbreaking to feel helpless, and the effects of stress or anxiety can be devastating to the child. That’s why it’s so important to learn everything you can about stress-relieving practices, safety tips, and how to build social skills that will help your child feel comfortable in any situation.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help your child with autism feel healthy and happy on a daily basis, whether they’re relaxing at home or learning in the classroom. Being prepared can provide you both with peace of mind, especially if your child has a hard time with new situations or is nonverbal. Because it can be incredibly frustrating not to be able to vocalize, children with autism who are nonverbal often turn to self-harm or outbursts to vent their feelings, but if you have some tools in your emotional toolkit to help, it will be much easier for your child to get through any situation.

Read on for some great tips on how to get started.

Appointments

Doctor and dentist appointments can be terribly frightening for a child with autism, and can contribute to anxiety. In order to relieve some of those feelings, try taking your child to these appointments when they’re young so they have time to familiarize themselves. You can also schedule a preliminary visit to the dentist’s office so your child can look around and meet the people who will be working on his teeth. It may also be helpful to bring a favorite stuffed animal or toy that he can hold during his first appointment or to schedule a few short visits rather than a long one. Ideally, look for a dentist who has experience working with children who have ASD.

Change the way he sleeps

Many children become irritable and are unable to cope with any kind of stress when they’re tired, so it’s crucial to make sure your child is getting quality sleep. If his mattress is more than seven to 10 years old, consider replacing it. Look for one that will meet his specific needs; for instance, if he’s a hot sleeper, a gel mattress will keep him cool all night long. Making sure his bedroom is at the right temperature and that his walls, bedding, and decor are done in tranquil colors can also help facilitate restful sleep.

Look for alternatives

For many parents of children with ASD, administering medications is a fact of life. While traditional medications are both necessary and effective, there are also alternative solutions that may help your child manage their stress and anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a historically-effective way to address communication and social challenges people with ASD commonly face, making it easier for your child to put their thoughts and feelings into words -- and for you to understand what they want and need. While CBT is time-tested, some parents are trying something new: CBD. Cannabinoid oil has helped some children with autism improve communication and reduce anxiety. If you do choose to pursue CBD, be sure to do your homework. Look for reputable suppliers who provide real testimonials, share test results, and encourage you to check with your doctor before you begin a regimen with your child.

Boost his social skills

You probably already know many tips for helping your child socially, but it’s important to try a few different ones to ensure he’ll understand how to interact in various situations. After all, the classroom is a very different environment from home. You might try playing pretend with your child and take turns creating stories, or teach him to ask questions by playing a game like “What’s in the bag?”

Stay patient

All parents and educators know that patience is the name of the game, but when it comes to helping a child with autism learn and stay safe, it’s also important to remember to be patient with yourself. You may feel guilty or frustrated if a method you’re trying isn’t working out the way you want, and while this is normal, it only puts pressure on you and causes stress and anxiety. As long as you keep manageable goals in mind and be patient with yourself, you and your child will find success.

Helping a child with autism flourish is one of the most wonderful and rewarding jobs a parent can have, but it's also one of the most challenging, so remember to go easy on yourself and incorporate self-care whenever you can. Remember, nothing happens overnight, but in staying educated and being an advocate for your child, you're ensuring a better life for him as he learns to navigate his autism and the world.


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