Most people find that when it comes to their babies, it’s love at first sight.
This is the nature of being a parent. We are all biologically programmed to love and take care of our babies from the moment they are born, and although heartbreaking and hard, an autism diagnosis will not change that.
Parents want a smiling, joyful baby, one that is healthy and ready to enter the world. But seeing that baby change from carefree and innocent into fearful and withdrawn is hard to cope with. Most parents of an autistic child will do anything they can to unlock their child’s complex mind, but even the basics are often out of reach. For those on the outside, it can be hard to understand what’s going on, and how to deal with it.
So, there are a few things that those parents, struggling in the trenches of autism, want you to know. Here are 10 things parents of autistic children want you to know.
1. Autistic children may display odd behaviour.
This is because autism is a complex neuro-behavioural disorder. This means you’ll notice that apart from the rigid, repetitive behaviour such as ongoing rocking or hand flapping, there will be impairments in social interaction with problems in language and communication skills.
2. Some children show signs from birth.
…while others will develop normally at first and then slip into symptoms when they are between 18 months old and 36 months. It can be an unexpected blessing if autism is caught in infancy. The young brain’s plasticity is able to respond to treatment, and if signs are detected before 18 months of age, intensive treatment can help to ‘rewire’ the brain so that your baby becomes more responsive.
3. Autism is four times more common in boys.
It is interesting to note that autism is more prevalent in boys. But autism isn’t restricted to a certain gender, race or social standing. Anyone can have autism, and many children show their autism in different ways.
There is no cure for autism, but therapists can help autistic children to communicate better and maybe learn a sign language to get a message across. The therapist can also help improve the child’s social skills so that they can enjoy playing in a group.
4. Tantrums do not mean children are wild.
Many people are alarmed and disgusted when they see children throwing tantrums, especially in public. But when it comes to autistic children, tantrums aren’t a sign of an undisciplined child. It is a way to demonstrate their frustration at not being able to get their message across and not getting the reaction they want from their parent.
5. Autistic children can surprise you.
Sometimes, autistic children may appear to be completely normal, but at other times, their autism portrays a large spectrum of symptoms which can be severe with devastating disabilities that may even require institutional care.
On the other hand, while autistic children may have problems in areas such as the ability to communicate and relate to other people, they often surprise everyone by having unusual skills in other areas such as making music, memorising facts that other people quickly forget, drawing and painting. It is amazing that autistic children can often test unusually high with non-verbal intelligence tests.
6. They can find it hard to understand.
You can often talk in the most simple language, but you may find that an autistic child will have difficulty understanding what people say, particularly with strangers. It is hard for them to express themselves through gestures and words. Some parents start using sign language to get through to an autistic child and stress that the sign language may become so deeply ingrained that the autistic child will never learn to talk. The autistic child usually speaks in an abnormal tone of voice and repeats the same words over and over. When you ask them a question, they may respond to your question not by answering it, but rather by repeating it.
7. Rewarding good behaviour makes a difference.
Positive reinforcement can go a long way to boost an autistic child and it will be well worth the effort to praise them when you see them doing something that is good and worthy of praise such as learning a new skill.
8. Taking breaks is hard.
You can’t just pack up and go away for the weekend when you have an autistic child. Children with autism do not adjust to changes well and they struggle when things are not in their usual place. As a result, it’s almost impossible to take a break as you would with a regular child.
9. Homes have to be safety-proofed.
With an autistic child, you need to safety-proof your home and create a private, relaxing and secure space for the child. If your child is prone to tantrums or even other self-injury kind of behaviour, you will need to take steps to prevent unnecessary injury such as putting up safety gates that prevent your autistic child from venturing into certain areas of the home.
10. It’s very hard when they’re babies.
Most babies love to be tickled and respond with laughter and love when you pull funny faces and engage with them. An autistic child doesn’t always make eye contact and also uses facial expressions that aren’t in keeping with what they are trying to say. Not smiling, not being able to follow objects visually, not responding to cuddling, not reaching out to be picked up and not sharing any interests or enjoyment with you can be heartbreaking for any parent, and you’ll be doing everything you can to have your baby smiling at you and joining in the fun.
There are many different treatments available and there is no single treatment that will work for everyone. Each autistic child is unique and comes with his or her own different strengths and weaknesses. The treatment you get for your child should be tailored according to their unique needs.
You need to build on the strengths they have and get help for those particular behaviour patterns that are causing the most problems with your child. Although it can be challenging to bring up an autistic child, it is not impossible and you are not alone.