How can parents help their child with autism?
As the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), helping your child reach their best outcome is the ultimate goal. However, on this path to helping your child reach their fullest potential, there are so many different stepping stones. It can be difficult to know where to start, which is one of the reasons why Rockmelon CONNECT+LEARN has been developed.
BY PARENTS, FOR PARENTS
After getting a diagnosis, many parents soon discover that they are somewhat left to their own devices. Thrown into the deep end and swimming amongst the hundreds of thousands of internet sites, resources and studies, trying to work out which ones apply to their particular situation. Autism Spectrum Disorder is exactly that – a spectrum. The one thing all parents with a recently diagnosed child have in common is that they have children with ASD. There is no miracle method or one trick that works for every individual child.
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,”
— DR. STEPHEN SHORE
Build a TEAM
It doesn’t matter how big or how small your Team is – what is important is that they are all focused on helping your child reach their best outcome.
Having the right people around you and your child is incredibly important. This is your TEAM…and you might even already have the beginnings of one already! Your Team is made up of other family members, friends, your child’s therapists, educators and other professionals. These are people you can call on for help and support when you need it or if you feel overwhelmed.
Your Team is a specially created support group unique to your child. The people who make up your Team will usually be:
– Family and friends
– Clinicians and therapists
– Educators, such as teachers or support staff
Get started early
It is the ‘early’ in early intervention that is important. Getting started as early as possible is one of the best things you can do. Even for parents of children who are not yet diagnosed, if you are in the process or concerned there may be a delay – there is no harm in starting early. Start pulling your Team together, find those people who are willing to get in the trenches with you and do the hard yards to help your child reach their fullest potential. If it turns out that your child isn’t diagnosed with autism or another developmental delay, then they’ve just had a little bit of a head start on their own learning journey! The skills that are taught to children with autism spectrum disorder are exactly the same as those that their neurotypical peers must also learn – but broken down into more manageable steps that can be practised and mastered in a systematic way.
Have a plan
Part of having an effective early intervention program is having a good plan to begin with. Depending on your family situation, your child’s clinician should help you develop a learning plan that works on strengthening areas where your child needs extra help and builds on the skills they already have.
If you live rurally or resources don’t allow for regular visits to your child’s clinician, you can still work on their development. It is time to put on your ‘teacher’ shoes! As a parent, you were always going to be a ‘teacher’ to your child – now it is just a case of parenting a little differently. Try focusing on those key areas that your child may need in order to live the most independent life possible, such as social skills or key independence skills.
Think of all the things your child CAN do and another list of all the things they can’t do…yet! Now you’ve got your very own to-do list. Make a plan to address each item on the list systematically and factor in plenty of time to practice each new skill.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
— ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY
It might sound a little bit boring, but data can be exciting. By taking data points around your child’s development you can objectively explore all the different areas where your child is progressing, what is working and what isn’t – and celebrate areas of growth together!
One area where taking data is really important is when addressing challenging behaviours. If your child is engaging in behaviour you’d like to change, first, you need to find out why that behaviour is occurring.These could be behaviours like tantrums, yelling or shouting – anything that might be getting in the way of their learning or impacting their home or school life.
The reason why a behaviour is occurring is called the ‘function’ and all behaviour has a function! There is a method we use in Rockmelon called the ABC Model. This is a really efficient way of taking data around your child’s behaviour to ensure you are addressing it correctly – and you can do it at home yourself! By using the ABC Model, you can identify certain trends in your child’s behaviour, which in turn helps you identify the function – which means you can then take the right steps to introduce an alternative behaviour.
Make learning fun
Once you start your learning program, make sure you have reward systems in place that help make learning fun. A reward system could be anything that reinforces to your child that they have done a good job, it might be sticker charts, tokens, time on the iPad or a favourite food. Keeping your child engaged and wanting to learn gives them their best chance at continued success and means they are much more likely to repeat their newly learned skill in the future (without reinforcement!)
For autism parents, there’s always a lot of different things going on all at once and there never seems to be the ‘perfect’ window of time to just get started. Remember, the first thing to do is get your Team together, make a plan and then get busy! Get busy teaching, learning and practising.
Early intervention is a short-term reprioritisation of everything in your life – but it’s worth it!
With the right plan, the right Team and the right tools, you can help your child reach their best outcome.