For the parents whose child has been recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, go through the three phases of stress, the first one of an alarm, then resistance and denial followed by exhaustion, however if parents seek adequate parent support and counselling from an expert and get their queries answered, learn and educate themselves on how to manage a child on Autism spectrum disorder then they can face this stress more smoothly without entering the phase of chronic exhaustion. Hence, via this article we shall try and impart parents some parenting tips and strategies to help them cope better and be well prepared.
Golden tips for parents:
Educate yourself, learn about autism, ask questions from your doctor, get all your queries answered and do not give up.
Acceptance, instead of trying to figure out how it happened and self-blaming on faulting parenting, accept the fact and start learning to understand your child.
Provide intervention and support after consulting your child’s doctor. Be regular and consistent in the therapy session. Learn and train yourself with methods to teach child at home. Create consistency in the child’s environment and help your child to apply and generalise the skill learned in setting to multiple settings.
Stick to the schedule and routines because children with autism spectrum disorders do well in a highly structured environment and routine. Have regular schedule for meals, school time, therapy time and sleep. In case of any change in routines prepare the child as changes and transitions can be challenging for children on autism.
While teaching your child try to focus on positively reinforcing his/ her small achievements and learning as it motivates the child to perform again.
Play and Fun activities must be included in the day.
For a child who is nonverbal pick the nonverbal or gestural clues, also may create opportunities for the child to speak.
Children on autism spectrum disorders may have sensory sensitivities to various sensory inputs like touch, smell, taste, sound or may be “under sensitive”. We must figure out ways what kind to sensory stimuli they are hypersensitive to and if possible, try to avoid the and in case they are unavoidable can try to learn ways to calm them and help them reduce sensitivities.
Try to work with your doctor towards working at a comprehensive intervention plan which will teach across all domains of development, help with teaching self-help skills, communication skills etc.
Make a list of child’s like and dislikes, their strengths and weakness, what does the child enjoy to be able to use them as reinforcers.
Do not forget to schedule play and fun time in the child’s routines.
Finally, parents must keep in mind that no matter what treatment plan is chosen, your involvement is vital to success.
How to get your child to eat?
Children with autism have approximately 20 per cent higher risk of gastrointestinal disturbances like constipation and diarrhea than their typically developing peer, other challenges like behavioural problems, inattention, difficulty in communicating, difficulty in understanding and sensory issues can also interfere with the feeding, leading to feeding difficulties. Here are some tips that you can make feeding a little easier:
Treat the medical conditions if any like constipation, diarrhea, any dental issues, swallowing problems etc.
Have a feeding schedule, have your child eat at same place and at a same time everyday this way he/she will know what will happen at mealtime.
Avoid all day snaking as it can reduce appetite at the mealtime.
Provide a comfortable seating, making child sit on a highchair, or a child size table and chair
Limit mealtime, as picky eaters do most of the eating in first 15-30 minutes.
Minimize distractions especially need to avoid showing TV, mobile watching as it can take the focus off the meal.
Get your child involved in selection and creation of meals.
Practice pleasant and healthy eating behaviors, especially parents modeling healthy eating habits.
Reward positive behaviors by praising, blowing bubbles, or giving a smiley or a sticker, this will encourage the positive mealtime behaviour.
Ignore negative behaviour like spitting, throwing or refusing food.
Present food in fun and familiar ways to make it more likely that the child will eat it
Do not get discouraged, as improvements may be slow but it is worth making the efforts. AS adequate food and nutrition is vital for proper development of the child.
(Dr Himani Narula Khanna is a Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician, Director & Co-founder of Continua kids)