Parents of children with autism (ASD) often have several questions regarding autism and what they can do for their child with this disorder. One of the biggest challenges that parents of children with autism often have is how to emotionally support their loved ones. Here are some tips for any parents or caregivers.
What is Autism?
Before you can start understanding the importance of emotional support for someone with autism, it’s essential to understand autism itself first.
So, what is autism?
Autism is a developmental condition that affects how someone sees the world and interacts with other people. Most people with autism tend to experience the following symptoms in varying degrees.
- Difficulty recognizing or understanding other people’s feelings and expressing their own feelings.
- Being overly sensitive or under-sensitive to things such as loud noises and bright lights.
- Finding loud, crowded situations overwhelming.
- Preferring familiar routines and finding unexpected changes to those routines challenging or distressing.
- Having intense and specific interests in certain things or topics.
- Difficulty reading body language and facial expressions, and understanding figurative language, such as irony and sarcasm.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is truly on a spectrum, meaning different people with autism may experience different symptoms or differing severity with each of these symptoms. What is most important is that you know how to emotionally support your child with autism with their mental health challenges.
Supporting Your Child With Autism With Their Mental Health
Any parent of a child with autism wants to know how to emotionally support their loved one and make sure that they are taking care of their mental health. Here are a few easy things that parents can start doing today.
Starting The Conversation
If you’re concerned that your child is struggling, try to open up a conversation with them about what’s going on. However, starting a conversation like this with your child can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some tips to help parents get started:
- Find a place to talk that is quiet and calm so that it doesn’t provide distractions.
- Try talking while doing an activity to make it seem casual and like your child isn’t in trouble.
- Find out what kind of communication works best for your child.
- Try asking closed, direct questions to ensure you get the information you need.
- During conversations, allow enough time for them to provide full answers.
These tips will help you make sure that the conversation is comfortable for everyone involved and that it allows both you and your child to be open.
Getting an Assessment or Diagnosis
If you think your child may be autistic and they have not received a referral for an assessment, you can speak to the following professionals for help, including:
- Your general practitioner or pediatrician.
- Your child’s teacher.
- Special education needs coordinator (SENCO) or Special Educational Needs staff member at your child’s school.
- A private healthcare provider.
- Any type of health professional who has seen your child, including a therapist.
These professionals can talk things through with you and help you get a referral if your child needs one.
Finding Mental Health Support
Typically, speaking to your GP, or your child’s pediatrician is the first step to accessing mental health services. Depending on how your child is doing, your doctor may refer them to a mental health specialist or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
If you and your primary healthcare provider feel your child should seek mental health services, it is typically best to prepare them first. It might help to give your child a clear idea beforehand about what will happen during this appointment and prepare them for any challenges.
This specialist may also be able to take extra adjustments to help your child feel more comfortable, depending on their sensory challenges. This includes:
- Dimming in the lights in the room.
- Letting you and your child wait somewhere quiet before the appointment.
- Doing a home visit if your child struggles to leave the house to attend appointments.
Little steps like this can help any appointment go better for you and your child with autism.
Counseling and Therapy
Counselors and therapists can help your child make sense of their feelings. These experts may also work with them to find ways of coping. It’s a good idea to find a counselor or therapist who’s experienced in working with autistic children and young people.
You may also look for therapists and counselors who offer specific therapies specifically catered towards children with autism, including ABA therapy.
ABA Therapy is a treatment that has become very popular in the autism community. This therapy is used for children with autism that is based on the science of learning and behavior. ABA therapy can be performed at home, at school, or in a specialist’s office.
This therapist reinforces desired behaviors while discouraging unwanted behaviors so that children with autism can develop better communication, language, and skills.
Your child’s school should be able to provide specialist help to support your child’s education and emotional well-being at school if needed. If you have concerns about how your child with autism is doing while at school, make an appointment with the principal to see what resources they have available in the Special Education department.
How a Parent Can Help Their Child With Autism Manage Their Emotions
While therapists, doctors, and specialists can provide a child with autism with valuable professional resources, there is still a lot of work for parents to do at home. Here are a few things that parents can do to help their children with autism manage their emotions.
Remind Them The Feeling Will Pass
This is one of the most difficult lessons for any parent to teach their children and it can be a particularly challenging concept for children with autism. Remind your child that feelings don’t last forever, and even though their current feelings seem overwhelming—those feelings will pass.
Remind your child to take deep breaths and they too will realize that these feelings aren’t going to last forever.
Help Devise Meltdown Strategies
Meltdowns happen, especially in children with autism. You can help your child learn to deal with extreme emotional reactions by giving them ways to calm or comfort themselves before going on. Every child has unique and different triggers that lead to meltdowns, as well as other things that can help them feel a sense of comfort.
If you devise meltdown strategies before you leave the home, you can feel more prepared to provide your child with what they need to feel more comfortable and get over the emotions associated with their meltdown.
Advise Them During Calm Times
In neutral times, when your child is not upset, you can talk to them about ways to keep their emotions from flaring up. By learning to own their anxiety and frustration, they can get through it with a little patience or by taking things in smaller steps. Trying to teach your child or give them advice when they are in the middle of a meltdown typically won’t work, as they will be so overwhelmed and distracted by their emotions.
Advising your child during these calm times is the best approach to helping them understand their feelings and how to control them.
Head Off the Inevitable
During times you know a meltdown is likely, you can sometimes cut it off by talking with your child about it beforehand. If you know you are heading into a situation where your child typically has a meltdown, you can discuss how they might avoid it this time. You might even want to offer a reward for behaving properly.
Sometimes, emotionally connecting with someone with autism can present certain challenges, and helping children with autism manage these emotions can be even more difficult. However, with a little extra insight, and a few tips and tricks, these strategies may help make it easier to provide the emotional support these children need.
Get Support For Yourself
The best way a parent can be a positive support system for their child with autism is to get support themselves. Parent support groups are a powerful and effective solution for parents who want to be the best versions of themselves possible for their children. This is why organizations like Golden Therapy offer free support groups for parents of children with autism.
These support groups not only give parents the emotional support they need to understand their child, but they also can help parents learn new tips, tricks, and strategies for handling their children’s unique emotional needs. Support groups like these can be found in communities throughout the country.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.