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Neurodivergent Parenting: Taking care of a child on the Autism Spectrum

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Parenting is a huge feat to undertake. It requires a certain kind of readiness and acceptance, and a mental fortitude that not a lot of people are equipped with. Simply put, being a parent is tough work. Raising a child to grow up feeling fully loved and confident in a world that at times can be unkind is a challenge that not many are up to face.

Raising a child on the autism spectrum comes with its own set of unique challenges. There are many manifestations of autism in children, but all of them require an amount of mindful navigating, as they are not neurotypical. When it comes to raising an autistic child, creativity and acceptance play a big role.

After getting a diagnosis from your child’s doctor, you will have to think about things like therapies that can help your child hone social and learning skills. But it will require more than that.

The Autism Spectrum: what does it look like in a child?

To the untrained eye, kids on the autism spectrum may seem unsociable, rowdy, or restless. It’s easy to confuse it with ADHD. Behaviours like averted eyes while speaking, a short attention span or disinterest, or even not wanting to be touched or to socialise with other children can be signs that a child falls somewhere on the spectrum. They may also exhibit habits like flapping their arms, continuous fidgeting, or the inability to sit still for prolonged periods of time.

Learning difficulties like the tendency to repeat words or sentences, inability to continue conversation, or a delay in developing speech can also be a sign. Concepts and sentences that can be “simple” to other kids may be a little more difficult for an autistic child to absorb and understand.

Children who exhibit these symptoms only do so because they are more prone to being overstimulated by their environment, which can result to tantrums or social withdrawal. It’s important to remember that these children are not being “rude”; they simply have different needs that might not have been met yet.

Things to incorporate into daily parenting

Emotional positivity

  • Encouragement goes a long way for children on the autism spectrum. Specific comments that relate to any task they have difficulty with can boost confidence and make them feel more open to accomplishing that task again. (For example: “Great job coloring that picture!” or “You did very well reading by yourself.”)
  • Make them feel safe. Let your child know it is okay to ask for help, and they can interact with others at their own pace.
  • Understand physical cues. When you notice them getting overwhelmed or overstimulated at a playground or a park, offer to take them someplace more quiet to give them time to calm down.
  • Create a network of people that can help understand and care for your child better. Letting friends, family, and teachers or guardians know about your child’s disability can make things easier, and create a more nurturing environment for them.

Routine

  • Consistency is important to help form helpful habits. Establish an easy daily routine to help your child remember things like brushing their teeth and putting toys away.
  • Talk to teachers and the child’s therapist to find ways to apply learning methods and see which ones are more effective.
  • Incorporate play into your daily routine! Play helps children form social skills, and let them tap into creativity.
  • Bring them along on some of your daily activities. A child on the autism spectrum can benefit more by being exposed to different environments under the watchful eye of their parent or guardian than by being kept away for fear of a bad reaction.

Respite

  • Make some time for yourself. Parenting a child on the autism spectrum is a unique situation, and it will take a lot out of you, so make sure to find yourself a support system as well. Carers deserve to be cared for, too.
  • Allow yourself some patience, especially when some methods you apply to parenting don’t work. Remember that making a mistake doesn’t mean absolute failure – you can always look for better ways to solve a problem!

Raising a child on the spectrum is vastly different from your everyday parenting. It’s going to require you to shift your mindset, and find many different ways to help them, as no child is the same. But with creativity and lots of love, you can succeed and help your child become more adjusted to the world.

References:

  • https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/autism-spectrum-disorders.htm
  • https://australianautismalliance.org.au/inquiry-into-autism/
  • https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/about-autism
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