When your child is given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you might very well be confused, scared and even a little angry. The demands of raising a child with ASD are significant for both parents and the other children in the family. It can be incredibly stressful and emotionally draining. However, when parents approach this child-rearing-adventure-with-a-twist with an open mind and open heart, they find it’s a great deal more fun, more rewarding and more successful than they originally anticipated. Dr. Hassan Alzein of Alzein Pediatrics in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn Illinois explains that there are five simple things you can do to help your child, yourself and your whole family when your child is diagnosed with ASD. 

Early Intervention

Like any medical condition, as soon as your medical provider confirms your child is on the autism spectrum, you’ll want to ask about steps to intervene. Early detection along with prompt intervention is crucial to your child’s and your family’s success on the autism journey. When you access and thoroughly engage in early intervention, you will gain a better understanding of the challenges your child is facing and be able to better help your child with those challenges.  

Early intervention can help to improve your child’s overall development and give them the tools they will need not just throughout their childhood and school years, but as adults in the workforce and in mature relationships. 

Early intervention will help your child:

  • Master essential social skills. 
  • Learn how to react appropriately with family, schoolmates, work associates and friends
  • Develop physically more rapidly
  • Learn more easily
  • Improve emotional intelligence, which helps your child become more empathetic, motivated and resilient, able to reason and communicate more clearly, better manage stress and navigate conflicts. 
  • Get the support they need to accept and love themselves as they are, rather than thinking there is something inherently wrong or flawed in themselves. 

Educate Yourself 

Knowledge really is power, especially when you have a child with ASD! Ask your medical provider for trusted websites, publications and books, and read as much as you can. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of your child’s health care professional, therapists and coaches. Get to know autistic adults and pick their brains. They are the only real autism experts and are usually delighted to share their experiences, thoughts and helpful suggestions. Speak to people with autistic children, join social media and in-person groups and weigh all the guidance they offer. Reach out via social media to leading expert and verified professionals in the field of autism research and therapies. Armed with extensive knowledge, you’ll be equipped to make informed decisions about your child’s health, education, and physical needs for better outcomes for your child, you and your family.

Engage in ABA Therapy

While most children unconsciously absorb life skills from daily interactions, children with ASD require a more structured environment to learn language and communication skills, social skills and behavioral norms.

Applied Behavior Analysis therapy (ABA) teaches children how to learn. It helps them develop basic skills like listening and imitating, as well as more complex skills such as reading and having conversations. ABA therapy begins with the concept of contingency or the cause-and-effect relationship between events. ABA therapy helps your child understand the cause of a behavior, the behavior itself and the consequences of the behavior. 

ABA therapy programs can help:

  • Increase language skills
  • Improve attention, focus, social skills, memory, and academics 
  • Decrease problem behaviors
  • Teach life skills

ABA therapy is an established, scientific approach to improving human behavior and has been shown to produce many important and socially significant changes. ABA can improve communication, academic, social and adaptive skills for your child with ASD.  

Know and Respect Your Child

No one knows your child better than you do and no one loves your child more than you do. Understanding what your child needs to be content, happy and serene and working to adroitly manage situations where your child could become upset or overwhelmed is not spoiling your child or encouraging bad habits. It is respecting your child’s present limits and working slowly to expand those limits with positive reinforcement. Carefully and calmly note the surroundings, situations and potential triggers or annoyances when your child becomes bothered, upset or has an emotional meltdown. When you can identify what stresses or frightens your child, you can craft a positive advance plan to handle or prevent these difficult situations in the future.  Likewise, when your child is happy and calm, observe the surroundings to determine what’s vital to replicate that situation. When you can duplicate the situations where your child is peaceful and content, you will be creating environments in which your child can thrive, learn and grow. 

Be Kind To Yourself

You are allowed to feel overwhelmed and to grieve for the loss of the dream of a “normal” child. However, as time passes and you talk with others impacted by autism and become more educated, you’ll see that a diagnosis of autism isn’t about limitations. Early interventions will help you and your family establish a routine that really works. At that point, instead of only seeing drawbacks or constraints, you will begin to see all the wonderful strengths and positive attributes of your child. You’ll begin to look forward to your trips to occupational therapists, speech therapists and behavioral psychologists. Why? Because you’ll see how your child starts to develop and grow in ways you did not imagine. Your child will begin feeling confident and calm within their environment and body. They will expand their world, discover their individuality and become a fully rounded person with a unique identity, rather than “a child with autism”. These therapies and experiences will also help you get to know and understand your child better, which is not only exciting but empowering as a parent! Best of all, you will learn the skills and tools that will help your child live happy and healthy throughout life.

It’s vital that you not only take care of your child and your family but that you also take care of yourself. Raising a child on the autism spectrum is a marathon, not a sprint. You truly do owe it to yourself and to your child to be healthy and happy. You cannot attend to the complex needs of your child if you’re an ailing, emotional wreck. That means doing whatever it takes to get there. You need to:

  • Own up to, recognize and deal with your own feelings, perhaps by seeing a therapist 
  • Get adequate sleep each night. 
  • Exercise at least 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes each time. 
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains. 

Raising a child with ASD is particularly challenging. You will be delighted and inspired by the good days and feel overwhelmed and discouraged on the bad days. Don’t waste your time wishing it was easier or wishing it was different. Instead, take control. Engage your child in interventional help as early as possible, get educated about autism and positive therapies, plan strategies that respect your child’s present capabilities, engage in ABA therapy, and take care of yourself to be able to give your child what they need to be successful, peaceful and happy.