Getting Started: Parents of Children

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It can be hard to know where to start and what to do when your child gets a new diagnosis. It’s helpful if all individuals in the child’s life gain an understanding of the diagnostic profile and its impact. Sometimes parents receive contradictory advice from well-meaning, but uninformed, family and friends. Some specialists and professionals provide recommendations from their own perspective but don’t take into account the needs and resources of the family as a whole.

At AANE we know what it’s like to hear the words, “Your child fits the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis (ASD)." You may feel both relieved and overwhelmed, wondering what this means for your child and family. But you don’t have to figure this out all on your own. AANE Parent Coaching can help you plan and set priorities for your child and family.

Interventions for families

When deciding how best to help your child, you don't have to do everything at once. You are allowed to make decisions that work for your child and family. You can try one or two practical strategies and see if they help. Many parents find the following general guidelines helpful. And remember, AANE is just a phone call or email away. We are happy to help.

Be kind and patient

Your child is not being difficult on purpose. He has underdeveloped skills that require patience, understanding, teaching, practice and accommodation. Think of what it’s like for your child to manage in a world that doesn’t always make sense and isn’t set up for her way of thinking and being.

Acknowledge your child’s strengths 

Let your child know you recognize his strengths. Try to give 4 positive comments for each time you correct or critique him.
Allow time for special interests: Your child is expending extra energy every day. Allow time for her to relax and recharge without pressure.

Look for a good fit 

Certain environments, activities and people will be a good fit and others won’t. Some children's sensory sensitivities make being around large groups very uncomfortable. They might find certain food smells or tastes objectionable. They might cover their ears while others sing at a birthday party. Try to make sure your child has access to the places, activities and people who help him feel comfortable or provide accommodations, like earphones or a quiet space apart from the crowd, when the environment can’t be modified.

Teach Underdeveloped Skills

Many children with Asperger profiles need to be directly taught social skills, taking the perspective of others, problem solving, staying calm when frustrated, or time management. What you focus on and when depends on your child’s particular mix of strengths, challenges, interests, goals, and what’s most problematic. Learning new skills takes time. Parents and other adults need to continue to provide environments that allow the child to feel safe and secure. Check out our Parenting Toolbox for practical parenting strategies.

Use Routines 

Making your child’s world more predictable will help him know what to expect. Many families find that using visual schedules/calendars help the child see what the day will look like, decrease anxiety and frustration, and reduce incessant questioning about what will happen next. It is helpful to include, “This schedule is subject to change,” on calendars so that your child knows sometimes schedules change and we can’t always predict when!

Preview Transitions and Changes

When you do know about upcoming transitions or changes to the schedule, let your child know in advance (and in writing or with pictures

Talk Less

It’s easy to lecture or nag when your child does something repeatedly that you find frustrating or don’t like. But if you talk too much, your child can’t absorb what’s most important and what you specifically want her to do. Consider using visual strategies to help your child process the information and see what you want her to do differently.

Use Calming and Coping Strategies

 Not only do you want to help your child learn how to stay calm when frustrated - you need to find strategies that help you stay calm too! Think about one or two things you can use to help you manage stress or stay calm when you start to feel yourself getting upset. Many parents like to meditate or take a walk. Others like to read or knit. Others find hard physical activity or time with friends helps too.

Seek Out Support 

You don’t have to do this on your own. Contact AANE, join AANE parent online discussion groups, or schedule parent coaching. AANE has hundreds of parents who know what it’s like to raise a child on the autism spectrum. Join one of our support groups or attend parent or family events to connect with other moms or dads who understand.

Create a Team

Many parents are looking for that “general contractor” to look at the big picture of everything going on with their child. They want someone to provide guidance for setting priorities, planning and evaluating what’s working and when something needs to change. Parents are most often the general contractors for their own child; but it can be overwhelming and parents often wonder if they are on the right path. Parent coaching can help you assess your situation and create a plan that is just right for your child and family. AANE can also refer you to local professionals when you need a particular expertise added to your team. You don’t have to do this all on your own!