Interacting Positively with Children on the Autism Spectrum
Parenting has never been an easy journey, more so if your child is on the spectrum. This journey is riddled with numerous ups and downs, and parents who are not well-versed in raising children with special needs often find themselves at the end of their tether.
Unlike neurotypical children, children with autism have social interaction and communication difficulties which often limit their ability to interact and form meaningful relationships with others. Compounded with their atypical restricted, repetitive behaviours, navigating this uncharted territory is difficult, especially within the child’s own terms. Parents often find it challenging to read and understand their child, and may have difficulties changing their own behaviours and habits to develop effective yet empathetic strategies for engagement.
If you are having trouble interacting with your child on the spectrum, we have gathered a few autistic-friendly parenting strategies you may want to consider.
Breaking Through the Barriers of Autism Spectrum Disorder
As with neurotypical children, imparting communication skills in a child with autism is critical in their development. However, there is a little twist – you will need to make a few tweaks and adjustments to your parental-child communication.
Children on the spectrum may not understand nonverbal cues – your facial expressions or the cadence in your voice may not be properly received as an indication of your feelings or instructions. You will need to lay it all out on the table, and since they take things as they are, ensure that you say exactly what you mean. To avoid any misunderstandings, keep the conversations focused and simple.
Responsive Interaction: An Autism-Friendly Parenting Strategy
When it comes to promoting positive interaction and engagement, the important feature that bolsters the success rate is how responsive you are with your child. Unlike directive parental behaviours, which seeks to change the child’s activity or focus of attention, responsive interaction includes comments and actions that build on a child’s current interests and behaviours. Rather than insisting that your child “say car”, you would say “that’s a car” when they are playing with a toy car.
While it may be much easier to fall back on the directive strategy, evidence suggests that responsive adult behaviours can be more helpful when developing a child’s social and language skills.
Validating Your Child’s Emotions and Respecting Their Boundaries
Unfortunately, parenting education for children with special needs in Singapore is not widely accessible. This means parents would often refer to approaches established for neurotypical children, without realising that they are placing a lot of pressure and expectations on their child.
Children with autism thrive in calm, familiar, and supportive environments. Due to their sensory sensitivities, children on the spectrum can be overwhelmed with things that we deem are normal. This will develop into meltdowns, where the child may withdraw and ‘shut down’, preferring to self-soothe by performing repetitive actions. They may also throw tantrums.
In such situations, you may remove the child from the environment that is causing them distress – for example, you could ask the restaurant to turn down the music or pick up your child such that they are not standing on the sandy beach. Refrain from chastising them as such meltdowns represents a loss of behavioural control, partly due to their inability to regulate their emotions and communicate their wants and needs effectively. Instead, it is important to remain calm and kind, validating their emotions and concerns. Lastly, give them the space and time to register and work through their emotions, and work through the meltdown if you need to.
Establishing the Nuances
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” – this quote from Dr Stephen Shore, an autism expert, is often repeated and emphasised. When raising your autistic child, it is important to remember that there is great diversity within the autism spectrum disorder. This simply means there is no one correct road map to follow and emulate. These differences can span across several areas, including communication, social interaction, sensory receptivity, and highly-focused interests. Some may be particularly hard to engage as they prefer to be left alone, while others may be keen to interact but have no idea how to go about it. As such, it is always important to understand and remind yourself that your child is unique. The constellation of these characteristics blends together differently compared to others who are also on the spectrum. Be sure to always tweak your approach to better suit your child’s needs.
Mindchamps Allied Care’s EIP
If there is one thing that makes parenting a child on the spectrum different compared to one who is neurotypical, it is the difficulties communicating verbally and nonverbally. Parenting is already stressful as it is, but if there parents are not able to find the middle ground with their autistic child, it can easily become so overwhelming. Compounded with the lack of knowledge in behavioral strategies, parenting can get too much for such parents to manage.
Fortunately, there are help available to give parents a much-needed leg up. To help you and your child overcome their developmental delays in language and speech, Mindchamp Allied Care’s Early Intervention Programme is here to help your child make progress or even catch up. You can rest assured that your child will be cared for by an experienced special needs teacher equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to teach your child skills in for the areas that require assistance and improve developmental outcomes. You may tap on a multidisciplinary approach by leveraging our other services, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, and educational therapy. With these programmes, your child can fully realise their potential.
Book an appointment with us to learn more.