Tips for Parents and Caregivers
Parenting any child presents both joys and challenges, but parenting a child on the autism spectrum can bring along its own rewards and unique challenges. In the beginning, you may feel overwhelmed by a variety of emotions. It is important to recognize and acknowledge these emotions and to take care of yourself during this stressful time. Every family will handle their stress differently, but the tips offered below are designed to help you begin the process of caring for yourself.
- Get the Support You Need
Surround yourself with people that love you and educate them on your new adventure. Tell them how you are feeling and what you are thinking. Just having someone listening can make all of the difference. Also consider looking into support groups for yourself and others in your family.
- Ask for Help
Your friends and family probably want to help but are not sure how to best approach you or what to offer. Don’t always wait for them to ask. Outline specific things you think you might need help with such as babysitting, cooking, laundry or getting some items from the store. Asking specific people for specific tasks will make it more predictable and less stressful for all who are involved. This will also help them to understand what it is like to be impacted by someone in your life having ASD.
- Make Time for Yourself and Family
Make sure that you try to take daily breaks for yourself. They don’t have to be long, a short walk outside is a great idea. Use your support network and try to go to the movies or shopping once and awhile. Make sure that you are getting some rest. The better you sleep, the more rested you will be and the more productive you will be with your family. Also, make time for your spouse and/or other children. Again, these do not have to be long, elaborate activities as long as they are predictable and mutually enjoyable. This is a team effort and everyone needs to be healthy.
Knowledge is empowering; learn as much as you can about autism and how to help your child. There is so much information out there and so many places to find it. You can start by (1) talking to other parents, your child’s school, or the family physician; (2) accessing available search engines such as ARNI-online and ASK; and (3) looking on the internet, in books or magazines.
- Early or Educational Intervention
Start looking into early intervention programs in or around your area. If you are not sure where to look, start asking questions. There are a lot of resources around the state that will help guide you in the right direction; we have listed some places to start at the end of this section. For children less than 3 years of age, identify the appropriate early intervention program for you and your child (see resources). For school age children, contact your local school district to begin the process of identifying the appropriate educational placement.
- Spend time with each child
This can be challenging, but try to divide your time across all the children to make sure that your love and attention is equally shared.
- Provide a private space for children
Create a safe place in your home for siblings to access whenever they need a break from the family or activities. Taking breaks will enable the sibling(s) to relieve some pressure, decrease stress, and remove him/herself from the issues and behaviors surrounding the child with ASD.
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How should I explain autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to our family and friends?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can often be complicated to discuss with people unfamiliar with the diagnoses. When explaining ASD to someone, it may be helpful to discuss your child’s diagnosis in general and also provide specific examples related to your child. For example, you could explain that children with ASD have difficulties with social interactions and then talk about the behaviors your own child displays in social situations. It is important to point out that no two children with ASD are alike and that symptoms displayed by one child with ASD may be similar or different than those displayed by another child with the same diagnosis. Finally, don’t forget to talk about the strengths of your child and all the great things that make him or her unique.