Advice for parents/carers from our autism expert

Suddenly you have your children at home all day and every day! It’s probably a huge shock to the system and to your household. Maybe you are trying to juggle your own work at home at the same time as looking after and helping your children with their school work.

‘’Anxiety can often be seen as ‘behaviour’, and it is usually the ‘behaviour’ that, as parents, we try to manage. The more we try to manage the ‘behaviour’ then the more the ‘behaviour’ seems to increase. This is tiring and really difficult for all involved – parents and child.’’

These are challenging times for all of us and these changes are difficult for everyone to adjust to. Having a child on the autism spectrum may increase those challenges even more. Suddenly their whole routine has gone ….the days have changed and the structure of the school has disappeared. Small changes can be anxiety-provoking for our autistic children which they have to cope with on a daily basis. Imagine the anxiety that this new big change can bring!

Anxiety can often be seen as ‘behaviour’, and it is usually the ‘behaviour’ that, as parents, we try to manage. The more we try to manage the ‘behaviour’ then the more the ‘behaviour’ seems to increase. This is tiring and really difficult for all involved – parents and child.

So what can we do? Put on your detective hat and investigate the underlying reasons for what you are seeing. Your child has differences in the way they communicate and interact and may not be able to tell you how they are feeling. They may like the safety and predictability of a routine with structured activities. It could be important to them to know what they are going to be doing, for how long and what is going to happen next. They may be seeking sensory input or maybe there is too much. Do they know why everything has changed?

It can be difficult to work it out so you may have to do a bit of trial and error first. Start by assuming they need routine and structure. Try planning each day and then set it out visually. You can use photos, pictures or drawings. This can be helpful for everyone in the household. Build-in some breaks and rewards so that your child is motivated to complete the activity or task and can see that after I have completed this I get to do that.

They may need some calm time to sit quietly doing something they enjoy on their own or they may need some sensory activities spread out throughout the day. Try providing them with a quiet area in the house that is just for them to go to when they need to. Make sure this area and also their work area is uncluttered and distraction-free to avoid sensory overload.

Explain what is happening in the world at the moment, at a level for their age and understanding, and ask them what could help them feel better at home. Tell them these changes are difficult for you too and you are all trying to work around them. It can really help children to know the reasons for changes otherwise it can be confusing and anxiety levels will rise even higher.

It can be difficult to work it out so you may have to do a bit of trial and error first. Start by assuming they need routine and structure. Try planning each day and then set it out visually. You can use photos, pictures or drawings. This can be helpful for everyone in the household. Build-in some breaks and rewards so that your child is motivated to complete the activity or task and can see that after I have completed this I get to do that.

Finally – Be consistent with an approach and make sure that everyone else is on board with it. If it doesn’t work after a week or two then put the detective hat back on and think again. It’s ok to get it wrong and it’s ok to try something else. You are doing the best job that you can and that is what matters.

Jane Pidduck has been working with autistic children and their families for over 20 years supporting the children both socially and academically. She helps families in understanding more about autism and how best to support and communicate with their child. She delivers autism training to families and professionals and is also trained in carrying out play-based assessments for diagnosis. Jane has been working with Autsera in an autism advisory role since its inception. 

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