If you’ve just received a diagnosis that your child has autism, you are probably feeling overwhelmed. Here are tips on how to cope with this developmental disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that causes children to communicate, interact, behave, and learn differently from the average child. Autism South Africa’s national director, Sandy Usswald, says the learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with this disorder differ from one child to another. “Some children with autism need a lot of help and intensive intervention, while others need less,” she explains.

Did you know? International statistics reveal that as many as one in 88 children are affected by autism.

Coping with autism

Jenna White, a family psychologist and applied behaviour analysis (ABA) specialist for The Star Academy, says that because autism manifests in different ways, it needs to be addressed differently for each child. “For parents, when they hear the word autism, it often means fear, sadness, shock, and financial strain. Parents often become physically and emotionally drained. However, if the child receives early intervention in the form of ABA, autism doesn’t need to be a lifelong disability, and children can recover,” she explains. ABA looks at the process of learning and elements that foster learning. “For example, if a child achieves a simple goal or produces a certain action, the behaviour is more likely to be repeated if there is positive reinforcement by some kind of reward (be it verbal acknowledgment or being given a chance to play on the swings outside). This can be beneficial for a child with autism, helping to reinforce behaviours that optimise independence and executive functioning while reducing behaviour that may be harmful or inhibit learning,” Jenna adds. Sandy agrees. “Behavioural- and developmental-based interventions aim to develop a child’s behaviours by working on his communicative, cognitive, and social skills. Existing interventions don’t cure autism, but they do improve its signs and symptoms.”

7 Tips for parenting an autistic child

Jenna says parents of children with autism will often withdraw from their friends and community. Their child is developmentally delayed and can have terrible tantrums, preventing the family from going out. Autism South Africa shares these tips for raising a child with autism:

  1. Educate yourself: The more you know about autism, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions for your child.
  2. Start intervention as soon as possible: The earlier children with autism receive help, the greater their chance will be for an independent life.
  3. Accept and embrace your child: Don’t compare your child to others. Skills are often uneven in autism, and a child may be good at one thing and weak at another.
  4. Join support networks: Find social groups to encourage friendships and interaction.
  5. Take note of sensory overload: Your child may be more likely to become stressed or anxious, even feeling pain. A sensory-integration trained occupational therapist can help.
  6. Stay positive and don’t give up: Children with autism can’t learn in an environment where they are constantly belittled. When you feel at the end of your tether, try to find time out for yourself, too.
  7. Become an expert on your child: Identify the triggers that lead to your child’s difficult behaviours and find out what elicits a positive response.

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