Ten Things You Can Learn about Your Autistic Child From Adults on the Spectrum
No matter how well intentioned a professional is, if they aren't autistic they don't have the full picture of what it means to experience autism- to BE autistic. That is where adults who have grown up on the spectrum can help parents better understand and support their children.
Here is a list of top ten autism tips you probably won't hear from the “professionals” but might make a big difference for your child.
Dehydration is a common problem for people with autism. Teach your child the skills required to keep properly hydrated so they can feel their best. You child's body may not give the signal of thirst or a person may be so obsessed with something that they forget to drink. Many people with autism are perpetually dehydrated and this can impact the ability to think, communicate and interact. It can also cause headaches (including migraines) and instigate seizures. Remind your child to drink adequate amounts of fluid. Show your child how to ask for a drink and how to get their drinks independently at home, school and in public. Teach them how to keep a water bottle with them on hot days.
Teach your child 1- to remember to eat and 2- to eat moderate portions. Blood sugar crashes, anorexia and obesity are common problems for many folks on the spectrum. Your child may be so focussed on something else or their body may not give the signal of hunger. The autistic body may also have a hard time recognizing it is full. Instead of eating one serving your child may eat the whole box, the whole casserole or the whole chicken. Visual supports can come in handy when teaching portion control. Some women may develop eating disorders as an unhealthy obsession which can add to the complexity of food in their lives.
Treat sensory imbalances, anxiety, seizures, Gastrointestinal and medical issues first. Often social communication problems will naturally get better or even go away when a person feels healthy and safe. You can find a comprehensive explanation about sensory issues and how they affect your child here.
Hormones will play a big role in how your child feels and functions throughout their life. Help your child prepare for and manage these changes. In boys, increased testosterone during puberty can increase aggressive outbursts. Their adolescent bodies may also feel more hypersensitive during this time so sensory seeking and avoiding behaviors often increase. Eventually they will adjust and these difficult times will get better. For females, changes in puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can increase hypersensitivity. Women in their forties and fifties report regressing to early childhood sensitivities that they had previously outgrown. Reintroduction of weighted blankets and joint compression may help. Also, women experiencing hormonal shifts may need to avoid certain activities or places that they had grown accustomed to in early adulthood.
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Classic ABA programs are not the solution for everyone with autism. Use cognitive behavior therapy, life coaching and special interests, to address trauma, nutrition, anxiety, communication and sensory challenges as an alternative. ABA is the choice of treatment decided by professionals and insurance companies not people with autism. People with autism often report this therapy felt invasive and inhumane to them as children because it is physically and emotionally exhausting and focuses on getting them to conform to expected social behaviors. To put it differently, the goal is to have a child look like their peers but emotional and medical needs are not always met. Cognitive behavior therapy, life coaching and a holistic approaches are an option for families who don't feel ABA is a good fit for them.
Teach your child to talk about their anger, fear and sadness and work through it constructively to come up with a solution that everyone can live with. We often dismiss how people feel by saying "It's ok." and expecting them to just get over it. This does not teach children to deal effectively with their emotions or pay attention to the most important internal compass they have. Yes, emotions are a person's internal guide and they let us know when something needs to be handled. Instead of saying "It's ok", acknowledge how your child feels and say “I see you are angry. No hitting (throwing, biting, kicking). Use your words to tell me how you feel." Then help us negotiate an acceptable solution for you and them. “You want the book. Ask for it. I want the book."
Use special interests to connect with your child and encourage them to learn new skills. Parents often worry that a special interest will take over their child's life. If harnessed correctly, special interests can be a useful teaching tool. Since special interests are the arena where your child already feels a sense of expertise and mastery they will be more likely to learn things including how to connect with you through this obsession. Children whose parents take away their special interests may be at greater risk for depression and seeking out harmful or destructive replacements instead.
Teach your child how to prevent burnout and take breaks. Autistic teens and adults are at high risk for burnout because of intense focus on obsessions and the fact that social interactions can be extremely demanding due to sensory and communication challenges. Because the body may not send the usual signals of hunger and thirst or the need to toilette and rest, it isn't unusual for autistics to spend ten or twelve hours on something that interests them without a break. Taking breaks, saying "no" to friends and colleagues as well as listening to the body are all skills that may need to be systematically taught. Many adults on the spectrum have difficulty maintaining employment because they end up in burnout and need to take extended breaks to recuperate.
Accept your child, autism and all. As advocate Jim Sinclair says, autism is "A way of being." It isn't something you can separate from a person any more than you can separate eye or skin color. Adults on the spectrum often report that the hardest part about being autistic is that they feel a constant pressure to be less autistic and pretend to be something they are not instead. Feeling loved and accepted is more important than learning socialization and how to read. The best part is that skills like reading and socialization come more easily in an accepting environment where people are given permission for self discovery.
If you want to learn about autism, spend time on line or in person with adults who have it and listen with an open mind to their advice. There are many autistic adults who are willing to share what they have learned, what life has been like, what has worked for them and what they wish could have been different.
- Autism Translated: 5 Keys to Help You Understand & Connect With Teens and Adults on the Spectrum
Do you know or care about a teen or adult with autism but have a hard time understanding why they do what they do? Do you wish you could have a better conn
Bonus tip from Nick Walker
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