With the rise in the number of children dealing with autism spectrum disorder, more and more parents are searching for strategies and tips to help support their children. The following techniques can help you as a parent further understand autism and may make a big difference in your child’s life.
Autism has grown in prevalence over the past several years. Today, approximately one in 200 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) worldwide, with higher numbers appearing in North America. With the increasing prevalence of autism, it is important that we clear up misunderstandings related to autism and gain a clearer perspective on how the disorder presents itself in children, and how family members and friends can interact with and support children with autism.
As with any identified learning difficulty or diagnosis with a neurological disorder, it is important to continue to view that child as an individual and not label them because of their identification. This is even more vital when approaching children with ASD, since all children with ASD present a unique manifestation of the disorder.
The term ASD is currently used as an umbrella term, encompassing the entire spectrum of disorders including autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder). Due to the many shared characteristics of these disorders, it is expected that the American Psychiatric Society will update their current definitions of these disorders to fall under the spectrum diagnosis of ASD with the modifiers mild, moderate or severe to classify the presentation of the disorder in each individual.
ASD is characterized by a combination of significant delays in three specific areas of development: communication and language development, social interactions, and behaviour. Children with ASD typically present with delays in all three of these areas, but one area of development may be significantly more delayed than the other two. It is important to note that each child with ASD presents very unique combinations of the typical characteristics. This can make teaching them challenging, since strategies that work for one will not work for another. Therefore, all the more reason to consider each child individually and differentiate learning to accommodate their unique needs.
Currently, children need to display 50 per cent or more of the symptoms or characteristics listed in each of the three categories to be diagnosed with autism. Asperger’s Syndrome is typically more common than autism, and does not usually present with the same language based delays as autism. Children with Asperger’s are more likely to have difficulty with social interactions, social cues and moderating their own behaviour. A more detailed listing of specific symptoms and early warning signs can be found at the following websites:
- MayoClinicreferencedocumentfor “Autism”
- AutismWeb – descriptionsofASDsandstrategiesforparentsandteachers
How to Support a Child with ASD
The first step in supporting a child with ASD is to get to know them—understand their individual strengths and weaknesses. It is important to research a variety of strategies that are usually successful in supporting children with ASD and then building a repertoire of resources to call upon when the current strategy stops producing results. A support network is integral in this process of building strategies.
Key strategies for parents with children on any scale of the ASD spectrum include (but are not limited to!) the following:
- Provide a highly structured environment with predictable routines
- Post schedules, using graphic representations and colour coding as much as possible
- Model appropriate behaviour and ask children to copy modelled language
- Model appropriate social interactions
- Integrate children with ASD into larger group settings with other children as much as possible to expose them to “normal” social interactions and behaviours
- Work with teachers and support workers to develop consistent strategies for the entire team to use with an individual child
- Develop a network of support in friends, family members and other parents of children with autism. It is important to constantly talk about what is working or not working, and gain valuable insight from others
- Continually re-visit current research, trends and strategies for ASD—you never know when you will come across something that might work for your child. As mentioned, each child is unique and responds differently to different strategies and treatments
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Do you have tips for other parents for supporting children with ASD? What strategies have worked for your child and/or family? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.