How to Deal with an Autistic Child
You’ve just learned that your toddler has autism. You feel crushed, but you know you need to formulate a plan for how to move forward. How can you best deal with your autistic child?
- Speak directly and often to your child. Autistic children learn language more slowly than do children who are not autistic. By exposing your child to language early and often, you will help him learn language skills. And when your child speaks to you, praise his communication profusely. Your child is locked inside his own world: it takes strength of will on his part to push beyond that . . . to reach out to you by speaking. Praise his efforts.
- Use short, simple, direct, and specific statements. Autistic children tend to construe every word literally, so they struggle with metaphors, similes, and other imprecise speech. Additionally, autistic children can get lost in longer sentences containing multiple instructions. “This is like pulling teeth” may induce fear of actually having teeth pulled. “We will do that at 5:00 p.m. is likely to be more successful than “We will do that later.” “Please sit here” works better than “Please come here and sit down”.
- Speak your child’s name often. Pronouns can be a challenge for autistic children. Additionally, you need to speak your child’s name to connect with him more effectively. “Johnny, please sit here” is more likely to generate the behavior you seek than “Please sit here.”
- Lightly touch your child often as you interact with him. He will likely rebuff your touch, but persevere. You need to help him acclimate to dealing with life “outside” (i.e., outside his thoughts and feelings). He needs to desensitize to touch.
- Maintain good eye contact with your child. He will struggle with maintaining eye contact, but you must help him grow comfortable perceiving and receiving someone’s glance and making good eye contact in return. You can help him with this by maintaining good eye contact of your own.
- Maintain a highly structured routine for your child. He will be most comfortable with routine and its repetitive tasks. You likely cannot change this. If you need to alter your child’s routine in any way, give your child as much notice as possible. For example, you might say, “Johnny, we will be rearranging our living room furniture tomorrow.”
- Minimize distractions in your child’s environment. Because your child is hyper-sensitive to his five senses, he can be easily distracted or bothered by sounds, smells, or sights that we barely notice. Because of this hyper-sensitivity, it is best to keep your child away from over-stimulating environments (crowded places, noisy places, etc.).
- Remain calm. He will throw tantrums now and then. If you get angry in response, the situation will get worse. It is best to remain calm and handle his tantrum with a calm, cool perspective.
- Make sure you discuss the best ways to deal with your autistic child with your babysitter.
Your child may have a disappointing diagnosis, but he is your precious child, with all the possibilities of life ahead of him. You can help him be a high functioning adult.