Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and stages of ability in functioning that can occur in people with ASD. It can exist in many different ways in people without them even realizing that they are autistic. ASD affects how an individual communicates and interacts with others. They may also show inflexible behavior patterns, narrow interest ranges, and sensitivity to sight, sound, taste, or touch.
Until now, autism was considered a common disorder in the West; however, it has become quite common in India, affecting every 1 in 80 children below 10 years. Therefore, to raise awareness around this disorder, celebrate the strengths and differences of those with autism, and improve the quality of their lives, World Autism Awareness Day is observed on 2nd April every year. This year’s theme “Light It Up Blue” urges people to wear blue and turn on the lights in their homes or businesses.
As autism presents itself on a wide range of the spectrum, it’s important to know that not all autistic children behave the same way, and what works for one child might not work for another. Parents can use medical care and therapies that can help them in the journey of bringing up a child with autism. Besides these, the below-mentioned are a few simple, yet effective everyday tips[4-6] that can make a difference.
1. Connect more with your child
Though it may be challenging to communicate with autistic children, remember that as a parent, you have a special bond with your child. Listen actively and give undivided attention to the nonverbal cues they use. Patience and steadiness are important when you try to connect with your child. Also, participate in activities that they choose, as this sends a message that their interests matter and will also help develop a stronger bond with them.
2. Plan playdates and social time
Socializing with their peers is paramount for kids with autism, even if sometimes it can be challenging for them. Playdates and other activities are good ways to practice social skills and make new friends. Pre-plan the activities (like going to a park, play house, or another activity you know your child will enjoy). Also, avoid noisy and overstimulating environments that may overwhelm the child.
3. Engage your child in recreational activities
A child with ASD is no different from a normal child as far as their need for a fun time is concerned. Engage your child in different activities like board games, dance, art, and craft, etc.
4. Practice positive reinforcement
This is one of the most effective behavior management strategies that can help children with autism deal with their challenging behaviors. That means when you praise and reward the child when they behave well or whenever they pick up a new skill, it will make them feel good. Find ways to reward them, either with extra playtime, giving them their favorite toys, or a small prize like a sticker. Also, incorporate praises and compliments after a few instances of good behavior to show that you value and appreciate their positive actions. This way, your child will learn that praise and compliments are reinforcers of positive behavior.
5. Use calming strategies
It is important to understand that emotional outbursts are a way for your child to express themselves and not a form of manipulation. It happens when they feel overwhelmed and temporarily lose their ability to regulate emotions. So, what should you do in such a situation? Observe and identify triggers or warning signs that can help you calm the child before they get too upset. Offer them choices that will help them feel more in control, such as offering them to go for a walk or eat something they love.
6. Get your kids moving
Physical activity is also great for kids with autism as it can help improve their fitness, coordination, strength, and body awareness. Exercise may also help decrease repetitive, self-stimulating behaviors and improve attention.
7. Stay consistent and on schedule
Like every kid, children with ASD love routine and might have a difficult time when things do not go according to schedule. Establishing routines at home can ease the unpredictability of everyday life for young children and make them feel more stable and less anxious. The consistency of routine can also help reduce power struggles between you and your child.
8. Make your home a safe place
Children with autism may not fear danger and be prone to self-injury. Keep all hazardous items such as cleaning products, sharp tools, knives, and electrical appliances in a safe place away from the child. Also, make sure to always keep the doors locked to prevent them from leaving the home without your knowledge.
9. Look for support at school
By the age of 3, many children with ASD have been identified and can receive early intervention treatments. Therapy for speech/language, behavior, or sensory concerns may be included in their curriculum. Parents can also seek additional help for their children from a classroom aide or during a lunch break or social skills group.
10. Cut your stress and take care of yourself
Lastly, as a parent, you need to keep your body and mind in shape, so you can face the challenges that arise each day. Stay organized to help yourself avoid being overwhelmed. Find time for yourself and prioritize self-care.
In the past two decades, the autism movement in India has come a long way, with early intervention, increased availability of services, and more awareness in the general population. However, there is much work to be done if people with autism are to have an opportunity to reach their prioritized maximum potential and lead dignified futures.
To achieve this goal. It is imperative that parents, relatives, teachers, caregivers, and professionals come together and advocate for the rights of this often marginalized and vulnerable community.
Let us create a world where autism is not seen as a disorder but as a different way of thinking.
Do not hesitate to seek advice from our trusted team of doctors. Consult now
(The article is written by Monalisa Deka, Senior Health Content Editor, and reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
1. Autism. Rehabilitation Council of India. Available online:http://www.rehabcouncil.nic.in/writereaddata/autism.pdf
2. Tiwari, R, Purkayastha, K, and Gulati, S. (2021). Public Health Dimensions of Autism Spectrum Disorder in India: An Overview. Journal of Comprehensive Health, 9(2), 57–62. Available online:https://www.journalofcomprehensivehealth.co.in/jch/article/view/207
3. National Autistic Society. The role of emotion regulation and core autism symptoms in the experience of anxiety in autism. SAGE Journals. 2020. Available online:https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1362361320904217?journalCode=auta
4. National Center for Autism India. Available online:http://www.autism-india.org/autism-india.php
5. Parent’s Guide to Autism. Available online: https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/2018-08/Parents%20Guide%20to%20Autism.pdf
6. Autism Guide. Available online:https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/helping-your-child-with-autism-thrive.htm
7. WebMD. Available online:https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/parenting-child-with-autism