I Just Learned My Child Is Autistic, What Now? Part III – Autism

It can be a somewhat amazing thing to find out that you have enough to say on a given subject to write three or more thousand word blog entries on the subject. Apparently—and I should tell you that I’m a bit surprised to find this is the case—this is true for my “advice to people dealing with Autistic children” article!

Amazingly enough (to me at least), even knowing myself to be a “windbag,” I want to add a few things to the list that so far comprises my prior two articles on this subject.

Keep in mind that what I write here (I.e., in all three articles to this point), are things I deem to be relatively critical to understand and internalize. At least, that has been the case for me to this point.

Okay, let’s not waste a great deal more time in introduction, but “get on with it” instead. Here are my third set of considerations when it comes to dealing with Autistic children.

Keep It Simple

This is another one of those things that applies to all children to some degree, but in my humble opinion, applies the more to Autistic children, than to children who are not so.

You need to be very careful to not make things overly complicated when dealing with Autistic kids. You can always “build on” requirements and expectations as time goes on, but the need to “reset” with an Autistic child is typically at least mildly bad, if not horribly so.

The simple reality is, you don’t need to set hugely complex rules and expectations. What you need to do instead is, start with the basics and “work up over time.”

Set Boundaries

There’s a marked difference between setting expectations and setting boundaries. Autistic children will, as previously indicated, take huge amounts of time at activities that others find entirely uninteresting (read here, “Things like, opening and closing the same door over and over again.”). As much as I would like to always be able to allow my son to do such things until he is ready to be done with them, many times I cannot do so. Other matters—both trivial and important—must be attended to.

So what do you do? For me, the answer that has worked best is to use a consistent mechanism for setting boundaries—times and places that things are acceptable.

A method that generally works will with my son, is to start “counting down” time.

It took a bit to figure out exactly how to “balance” this, but generally, I can set a point fifteen minutes from when something must end (sometimes, less, at one particular regular store visit, I only give five minutes). So when I take my son to The Museum of Discovery in my local area, I generally count on spending hours there and “closing the place down.”

If he doesn’t decide to leave prior to closing, I try to ensure I give him sufficient time to “wrap things up.” Typically, that’s, “Garrett, in fifteen minutes the Museum is closing.”

From here, I do “periodic warnings.” So, “Garrett, the museum is closing in ten minutes, ten minutes.”

The longer the first forewarning is from the “ending time,” the longer between the periodic warnings. As we get closer to the end point, the more frequent, but until the last five minutes, they never get closer than five minutes apart.

Stand your ground — Within Reason

So, you’ve told your Autistic child we will be leaving at thus and such a time. Now stick to it! Well, mostly anyway. At times you’ll find that you can spare some more time, and you should do it—if for no other reason than to show your child you can “be reasonable” about such things.

In general though, you want to make it a habit to stand your ground. Things like, “No Garrett, this is what I said we would do, this is what we’ll do.”

Be prepared for pleading, screaming and anger. That’s not to say every “limit set” will result in these behaviors, but one fact about Autistic children that gets bandied about a great deal is generally spot on. They don’t like change.

The result is, a kid who has told you they don’t even want to do a particular thing, will be hard put to pull him or her self away from that thing in the course of time. Consistently setting boundaries will generally help the “transition.”

Challenge and Work Towards Response

One thing you will see in many Autistic children, is an unwillingness or inability to work in a “challenge/response” world. “How was your day, Garrett?” Has generally resulted in zero response from my son. He’s not trying to be “rude,” he just genuinely doesn’t understand the concept of challenge/response.

The way to get that understanding to occur, is to continue to work with the child—to get him or her to respond to things going on around him or her.

In a former article, I talked about learning your child’s motivations. That can be a very helpful thing in dealing with the “shortcoming.”

My son dearly loves chocolate, particularly dark chocolate. We have a cache of “miniature” chocolate bars which he gets at various points. I make it a habit to tell him that a chocolate I have grabbed for him is “daddy’s.” I do this also with his afternoon snack as well.

I don’t do it to “mean,” and though it’s partly to encourage various types of “play,” the most important reason is to “get a rise out of him.” In so doing, I “invoke challenge/response.” There are other things I do—like telling him I’m going to “pinch” him (which is more a tickle motion than a true pinch), to get responses often even before I act.

More and more, one should work toward the place of “normalization of challenge/response.” This is a definite need in many Autistic children.

Praise Is Important

If my son were not Autistic, I would consider (though probably not tell him), that he did many things well below “expected standards” for his current time in life. That being said, the fact that he’s trying to do many of them at all is a matter for praise.

On top of this, I make it a regular habit to tell him he is handsome, smart, strong, tall and so many other things. I want him to know that his differences don’t negate these truths.

Remember, praise is important for any child, but it’s easy to forget it’s important for Autistic children, and “normal interactions” between you and an Autistic child often do not make it seem so.

Remember, praise is a good thing.

Okay, as I’ve said, yet again, I’m surprised how quickly I have come to my time and word limit. Even so, here I am! So as usual, allow me to wish you the best of times, and thank you for reading.

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