10 Key Things To Do For Your Child With Autism

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I’ve lined up a series of guest posts from autism bloggers and experts. Today’s is from Kerry Peterson, a speech-language pathologist and board-certified behavior analyst who’s been evaulating and treating children with autism and evelopmental delays for more than 15 years. She is the director of the TrainIn Program at Kaufman Children’s Center in West Bloomfield, Michicgan, a center-based program for kids on the autism spectrum that uses the principles of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) and AVB (Applied Verbal Behavior) to teach language, communication and related skills. Kerry is also a columnist for the special-needs blog at PediaStaff.

If your child has a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, you may occasionally find yourself reeling with new questions and concerns. As a speech pathologist, I have worked with hundreds of children with autism from very young toddlers to teenagers. I also have a 21 year-old niece with Asperger’s syndrome! The challenges she faces today are quite different from those of years past. I have known children severely impacted by autism and others who have had wonderful outcomes no one would have predicted in those earliest years. Parents of a child with autism may take different paths on the road to intervention.  Here are several things that I have found very successful families do when planning and advocating for their child with autism:

1. Explore autism resources in your local community, in the state and nation-wide. Get involved in support groups and build a network to share, get information and learn from families who have experience raising a child with autism. Remember, every child with autism is very unique and your child will likely have a journey unlike anyone else.

2. Gather accurate information about best practices for treatment options for children with autism. Go to credible sources for information to help guide your plans for treatment. Recommended reading: Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism (National Research Council) by Catherine Lord and James McGee (2001). If you have a young child remember, early intervention is the key to improving your child’s prognosis.

3. Make sure your pediatrician is willing to spend time when you need help managing your child’s care. Pediatricians often have very limited training in autism. Be sure your pediatrician is willing to spend time to listen to your ideas about important topics like treatment options, diet, medications and future immunizations, etc.

4. Find out what is available to your child through your local school district and your health insurance. Children are eligible for special education services from birth to 26 years of age. A child who is under three is able to receive services in the home in many school districts. At three, children are eligible for special education preschool programs and services. Become knowledgeable about the IEP process and your child’s rights. Become familiar with your insurance policy and determine if treatments such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) are covered benefits.  Read about upcoming changes in statewide legislation that may affect covered benefits for children with autism.

5. Keep your young child engaged in social games, sensory motor play and interactive routines. For older children, explore adaptive sports where they can get a good physical workout and develop relationships. Avoid letting your child spend excessive time on their own or with technology such as television, iPod and iPads. Your child needs to have social interactions to understand language and understand the social world around them.  Technology will likely come easily to your child; the social world will prove much more challenging.

6. Typical children have hundreds and hundreds of interactions in a day. Children with autism need others to actively engage them to even have a fraction of the interactions of a typical child. Early on, these should be in the form of asking for what they want to play with, eat or what they need to do a preferred activity. It may be that the environment needs to be engineered so the child does not have free access to his or her favorite things. Put food items up and out of reach, put toys in clear tubs on shelves. For older children you may need to set up structured play dates and facilitate turn taking, sharing and conversational skills through practice.

7. If your young child is not yet using words, consider teaching him or her to request preferred items with simple manual signs. Avoid teaching general signs such as “more” and “all done” and instead teach specific signs for items they most want throughout the day (cracker, ball, juice). Prompt your child’s hands and then model the sign and say the word for them several times. Always model the correct word vocally and try to get your child to imitate the word. There are wonderful websites and applications for looking up signs. You do NOT need to take a sign language class!

8. Use visual supports! For young children or those who are not able to read use pictures or objects to let them know what will happen next throughout the day. Bring your child a picture of the bathtub or a tub toy to let them know it is time for their bath. For older children use lists, daily schedules, reward charts and social stories to help them know what is going to happen each day and what behavior is expected for each situation they encounter.

9. Become familiar with how your child processes sensory information. Children with autism almost always have difficulty processing sensory information effectively. They can become easily upset at things we hardly notice (getting hands dirty, the toilet flushing, tags on clothes). What experiences do they avoid and what do they seek out repeatedly over and over (spinning objects, smelling objects, lining up toys). Without intervention, sensory challenges can limit important learning opportunities throughout the day.

10. Seek training to understand how and why children develop challenging behaviors. Because children with autism have limited communication skills they are more likely to develop inappropriate behaviors to gain attention, to get items they want and to prevent doing activities they do not like. Understanding challenging behaviors and how to respond in different situations can help prevent behaviors from becoming established patterns. It is important to intervene early to reduce the risks of long-term behavior problems.

Image of Autism Awareness ribbon via Shutterstock

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  1. by PediaStaff Article Featured on Parents.com

    On April 10, 2012 at 8:40 am

    [...] Parents.com asked PediaStaff to help facilitate an article for their special series on their special needs blog [...]

  2. [...] 10 things to do for your autistic child (Parents.com) [...]

  3. by Cindy Riachi

    On May 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I believe the suggestions of not allowing your child excessive time alone(such as with technology)to be dead on. I have noticed a trend of autistic children having spent excessive hours in daycare(full-time)from the time they were babies. I believe we are not exploring the role of the environment in susceptible children. These children need intense, daily(even hourly when not sleeping)interaction with a parent. Day cares just can’t deliver this. My oldest son did not speak until three. He did not gesture at all. I stayed home with him the whole time and participated in intense socializations with him. He is not autistic although I think in a day care environment, we may have gone in another direction. I believe certain families have tendencies towards Asperger’s/Autism through the genes but the early home environment(especially the first year of life)can make all the difference. This may not apply in all instances but I believe it would in many.

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