A Guide for Families of Children with Autism

Navigating the path of an autism diagnosis can present families with a formidable challenge. As a parent or caregiver of a child on the autism spectrum, you are well acquainted with the distinctive blend of joys and obstacles that accompany nurturing such a child. Every individual with autism possesses exceptional qualities, difficulties, and distinctiveness. Cultivating an understanding of your child’s requirements and providing the necessary support demands patience, knowledge, and a network of support.

What Are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Autism represents a cluster of neurodevelopmental conditions that profoundly shape an individual’s perception and engagement with the world. This condition affects a staggering 1 in 100 individuals within our nation.

The enigma surrounding the origins of autism remains, as its etiology eludes our understanding. Once autism takes root, it becomes an enduring aspect of a person’s life. No cure has yet been discovered to alleviate the effects of autism, leaving individuals to navigate its complexities through therapy and behavioral techniques. Two-thirds of those diagnosed with autism also grapple with learning disabilities, presenting an additional challenge.

Autism appears to have a genetic basis, so multiple individuals within a family can be affected by this condition. Likewise, the manifestation of autism can vary significantly from person to person. Some individuals may require extensive support, needing additional assistance and care, while others can lead independent lives.

How Individuals With Autism Might Behave

Individuals with autism face challenges in understanding and socializing with others and participating in everyday activities. They may struggle with expressing needs and emotions, initiating or ending conversations, and interpreting others’ words and body language. These difficulties can make it hard for them to navigate social interactions and form friendships. Some individuals with autism prefer solitude and find it difficult to adapt to new situations.

Coordination issues, such as using tools, may be present in individuals with autism. They may also display repetitive behaviors and intense interests, focusing deeply on specific subjects. Routine is often preferred, and unexpected changes can cause distress. Some individuals may engage in self-harming behaviors or emotional outbursts like shouting or running away.

Autistic individuals may also experience heightened or diminished sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes. Bright lights, loud noises, certain smells, being touched, or specific food preferences can trigger discomfort among people on the autism spectrum. Understanding and accommodating these sensory sensitivities are crucial in creating a supportive environment for individuals with autism. Despite these challenges, individuals with autism can excel in many areas of life, like math, art, or music.

How To Help Individuals With Autism

You should understand that when an autistic individual says things that offend, it could be due to their inability to comprehend your feelings when in their view, they are being honest. If their activities and interests appear dull to you, remember it is important to grant them sufficient time and space to engage in them.

Likewise, people with autism find comfort in having a routine, so it is helpful to establish specific times for certain activities, like mealtimes. Notify them in advance if any changes are anticipated in their routine.

Lastly, if the individual becomes angry or frustrated, allow them time to calm down before addressing the issue. You should also maintain a calm demeanor during discussions. Keeping a record of the individual’s behavior can assist in identifying triggers and determining the specific environments that should be avoided.

Effects on Family

Mothers, as the primary caregivers, may encounter stress, sadness, anger, or worry when caring for an autistic child. This responsibility can lead them to quit their job or work part-time, potentially impacting their overall health.

Siblings, although they may notice their autistic brother or sister’s differences, may not fully comprehend the reasons behind autism. However, when explained, they often accept it. Nevertheless, they may experience mixed emotions, such as jealousy due to the special treatment or extra attention given to their autistic sibling. They may also want to care for and protect their sibling, but at times, they might feel embarrassed or annoyed when others fail to understand autism. Concerns about future responsibilities in looking after their autistic sibling or worries about their children possibly having autism can arise too.

Families with autistic individuals can face social isolation due to adverse reactions toward autism. It is often difficult for people to realize or understand that certain behaviors result from autism.

Where You Can Get Information and Support

Social services can conduct assessments of autistic individuals and their carers to determine the assistance and support they are eligible for. The support can encompass various aspects such as daytime activities, aids and adaptations, home help, and respite care. 

Other services include speech and language improvement, addressing physical and sensory issues, managing eating, sleeping, and toileting problems, behavioral management, and counseling for addressing emotional difficulties. A local school psychologist can assess your child’s educational needs to ensure the school understands and provides appropriate support.

Finally, support groups can provide valuable information and support. Voluntary organizations, such as the National Autistic Society, offer assistance and resources. Local authorities also provide training and seminars on autism, sometimes featuring individuals with autism sharing their experiences.