If you have a child with autism, you likely understand the complexity of the disorder and how misinterpretations affect diagnosis, treatment, and care. Unfortunately, harmful misconceptions permeate autism discourse, with many wrongly believing autistic individuals are savant, emotionally stunted, and aggressive. Additionally, people with no first-hand experience often think the disorder is a one-size-fits-all situation, which leads to misunderstanding and poor treatment.
In reality, autistic people lie on a spectrum and can live vibrant, fulfilling lives regardless of whether they are low or high functioning. While they experience a range of emotional and mental differences from neurotypical individuals, many people with autism are fully capable of communicating and socializing with the proper treatments and resources. However, some people living with the disorder need extra care to navigate day-to-day situations, necessitating full-time caregiving.
If your child has been diagnosed with autism, and you’re unsure where to begin, read on for six tips for first-time caregivers.
Study up on types, symptoms, and coping strategies
There is a widespread misconception that autistic people experience the same symptoms and treatments after diagnosis. However, the autism spectrum is just that – a spectrum with no two individuals feeling the same effects and indications. In addition, because of the profoundly complex nature of the disorder, there are countless different remedies, coping mechanisms, and caregiving tactics to consider depending upon your child’s circumstances.
There are three different types of autism, all with varying degrees of severity, recognized in official diagnoses: autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive development disorder (PDD). Each type of disorder overlaps in symptoms and treatments, though each kind features specific criteria and impacts. To provide the best, most loving care, make sure you understand your child’s specific case and talk with a professional about possible treatments.
Practice adaptable communication
A critical aspect of caregiving is effectively communicating with your child and adapting as conflicts arise. For those families recently confronted with a diagnosis, some of the most common symptoms of autism are a lack of emotional regulation and difficulty communicating, meaning you’ll need to practice patience, flexibility, and understanding when interacting with your child.
Although getting an official diagnosis can be shocking and confusing, early treatment can spare you and your child the frustration and discouragement characteristic of the early phases of diagnosis. The sooner you can identify symptoms and implement coping strategies, the more successful your child will be in the future. In addition, early intervention services can help smooth out the transition and give you helpful tools to ensure both you and your autistic child are happy and healthy.
Unlike neurotypical children who pick up on social cues early on, autistic kids often need extra guidance to clearly and effectively communicate. Without proper direction and socialization, children with autism can become frustrated and angry as misunderstanding and confusion occur. To help your child succeed in future interactions, teach them how to wait their turn to talk, identify social cues, and respond appropriately. Most of all, make sure your child knows they’re safe to come to you with any difficulties they may face, so you can work through it cautiously.
While it may be tempting to overcompensate with hands-on (and around-the-clock) caregiving services to ensure your child is protected from the harsh realities of a neurotypical world, granting them optimal independence and the freedom to be oneself is of critical importance. Thus, finding a balance between correcting behaviour and incorporating neurodiversity is key to a happy child. For example, teaching your autistic child to control their emotions and effectively communicate while also allowing them to express and react freely empowers them to live comfortably and break down stigmas ingrained in society.
Caring for a child with autism can be challenging without the proper tools and know-how. However, once you’ve collected reliable resources, understand the disorder, and find a support system, you’ll learn about the complexities of human emotion and spirit through their lens.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.