As well as being an autistic woman I am also the mother of an autistic child. I haven’t talked about his autism on the blog much out of respect for his privacy. I would hate to think of his school friends Googling his name and finding potentially embarrassing blog posts about his issues.However I think parenting autistic children should be talked about, ideas shared and solidarity felt. So I’m going to start a regular feature on blog entitled Parenting Autistic Children.
I will not be particularly specific about my son, but I will share the things that I’ve done that have proved helpful. In hopes that perhaps for someone else they might be helpful too.
So a little about my son. He’s nearly ten and was diagnosed with ASC two years ago, just before he turned eight. He’s first and foremost an unique, amazing child, I’m incredibly proud of him and consider parenting him a privilege. However obviously being autistic comes with a unique set of challenges and I’ve worked hard to accommodate his needs.
I believe that my goal as the parent of a high functioning autistic child is to encourage high self esteem, independence and an ability to function in society. Everything I do has these aims in mind. Therefore I don’t consider his autism as a reason to expect less from him than I do from my other children.
Today I want to talk about routines. How to implement a routine to encourage autistic children to feel calm and safe. Also how to build in flexibility so the child learns to cope with change, as it is an inevitable part of life.
My son feels calm when he knows what is happening each day. I understand this, as an autistic woman, without the familiarity of daily, and weekly routines I feel out of control in a world which can be very unpredictable. With a routine at least there is something predictable as a constant.
So I keep things fairly predictable in our lives. We get up, eat, do activities, go to bed and take care of personal care needs at roughly the same times, and in roughly the same way each day and week.
I have a wipe clean board on which I write the weeks timetable each week. My son looks at it each day and knows what to expect from the day. Our timetable uses a combination of pictures and words.
If you have a younger or more severely autistic child then there are other techniques you could try. You could use objects to represent each stage of the day and line them up in the order in which they will happen. For example a tiny pair of shoes, a dolls coat and a toy slide to help them to understand that they will need to put on their shoes, then coat and then you will take them to the park.
You could pick the key parts of your schedule and ensure you have an object to represent each part. Keep them all together, go through the routine with your child at the beginning of each day and remind them throughout the day using the objects.
Alternatively moving on a step you could take pictures of your regular activities and key parts of each day, then make a timetable out of them. Update the timetable each day with the days plans.
Life can be unpredictable and it’s important to help autistic children learn to cope with this, and to learn to be a little flexible. In the short term this can be hard work, in the long run it’s a very useful skill for life.
When I first started filling in my son’s weekly timetable I hit a problem. If something didn’t turn out the way that I’d written it that was difficult for him to cope with. So I started to encourage flexible thinking by adding the occasional scheduled unexpected activity.
I would write ‘decide on the day’ on the timetable. That seemed to help. He knew something was happening, and that it would be decided later. Initially there was resistance to this idea, but I gave it time, and endured some outrage from him and he has got used to the idea. When the unexpected plan is decided upon we talk through it and do our best to help him maintain a positive attitude to the new plan.
I hope that in time this will lead to him feeling less frightened of the unexpected and encourage flexibility.
I hope this has been helpful. I’m certainly not claiming that my ideas will definitely work for every child. As they say ‘when you’ve met one person on the spectrum you’ve met one person on the spectrum.’ If there is a specific area you would like me to talk about in my next post of the series then leave a comment and I will do my best.