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Parenting is a noble yet stressful responsibility, no matter the child. But when it comes to raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), both the parent and the kid may often feel exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of any given day.
That said, there are ways to make your daily routine a little easier on both of you, and they might just offer you the relief and peace of mind you’ve been looking for.
1. Have a safety plan in place.
One of the issues parents worry about most when they have a child with ASD, is the tendency of special-needs children to wander away from safe settings, like home or school, and get lost. But many parents find that a GPS tracking device is one of the most convenient ways to make sure their child stays safe. While there are plenty of high-tech options available, the AngelSense GPS was made just for children with autism. The tracker sends text messages when your child arrives or leaves a location; and it attaches on to the child’s clothing to avoid triggering any sensory issues.
AngelSense also offers a “listen in” feature so parents can hear what’s going on with their child when they’re apart.
“If parents suspect that something is not right and that their child may be a target of bullying or mistreatment they should listen-in to gauge the situation,” says AngelSense founder Doron Somer. “A good example of this is a mother that listened in to her son’s device when his school bus was running late. She heard her son screaming because he was being bullied, and the bus monitor was unable to get control of the situation. She could see exactly where the bus was and quickly get to her son to comfort him.”
2. Let your child take the lead sometimes.
All children have different likes and dislikes that deserve to be respected, and kids with ASD are no different, says ASD specialist Heidi Hecht.
“Let the child take the lead on which activities they prefer to participate in,” Hecht tells Babble. “Maybe they’d prefer a chess club or a group activity that does not seem as chaotic as many team sports rather than an organized athletic sport and that’s okay, too. Also, learn how to recognize when the child just plain needs a break. Some meltdowns can be avoided simply by recognizing when the autistic child does not wish to participate anymore.”
Christopher Dukes, the President and CEO of Dukes Wealth Management Inc. and father of a child on the autism spectrum, has this to add: “If you have other children, include your ASD child in as much of the day-to-day activities as he or she will tolerate.” Dukes has found that doing so with his own child has given them a great sense of acceptance and safety.
3. Create a safe room at home.
Home should always be a safe haven for you and your child. But unfortunately, it can often feel more like a train station, with constant visitors passing through, and the never-ending rotation of laundry piles, scattered paperwork, kids’ toys, and sink full of dishes. To help alleviate stress in the home, create a designated safe room where you can play calming music and allow your child to unwind — free from technology, TV, chores, or other sensory distractions.
4. Separate the bedroom from the playroom.
Sleep is an essential part to having a healthy and balanced life for anyone. But when it comes to kids, getting too little of it can lead to tantrums, illness, and general unpleasantness. For kids with autism, sleep can be especially difficult — but a few simple tricks can make all the difference.
Try turning your kid’s room into a nocturnal oasis by adding a white noise machine, black-out blinds, and weighted blankets to their bedding. Make sure to also follow a set bedroom routine that’s predictable and under 30 minutes. All of these small changes can help signal the body that it’s time for sleep.
Also, try creating an “emergency tool kit” for when your kid wakes up in the middle of the night. Consider including a picture of a clock set to the time they’re allowed to get up and go to their parent’s bedrooms. This will give them nighttime patterns that can help keep them calm while giving you a couple hours of much-needed rest.
5. Make mealtime fun.
Yes, mealtime can be fun — even if your kid is a picky eater. Kids with autism are typically picky eaters, so it’s important to learn how to make mealtime pleasurable for them and bearable for you. The first step? Aim to reduce their fear and anxiety around food. Start by increasing their tolerance of something as simple as being in the presence of foods they have issues with. Once they don’t mind certain foods being on the table, you can work on introducing the food into their diet.
Keep in mind that certain textures can present huge problems for autistic children, so use trial and error to find which colors, textures, and smells they’re okay with. Also, always keep tried-and-true snacks with you — whether it’s in the car, in your purse, or wherever you can stash them — so you’re never stranded without an emergency snack for your picky child.
6. Practice at-home hair care and grooming.
Bath time can be a sensory overload with lots of sights, smells, and steps involved. But the hairstyling experts at Snip-Its kids’ salon offers some unique and stress-reducing hair-care tips for parents to try.
“Before shampooing, show the shampoo to your child and allow them to smell and touch the shampoo,” a rep for the company suggested. “Repeat the same process for conditioning.”
The experts at Snip-Its also suggest offering the child a bath toy to play with for comfort, and using a leave-in spray detangler if they’re particularly sensitive to having their hair combed. Then use a wide-tooth comb to get out all the tangles.
“Before using a blow-dryer, blow some warm air on the child’s hands or arms so they can feel that it’s warm and won’t hurt,” the rep adds. “If the child is comfortable with the blow dryer, proceed with drying the hair.”
7. Rotate your aces.
“Determine what your child’s most-preferred item and activity is and use it sparingly, as a reward for excellent behavior,” suggests Rebecca Galli. Galli is the mother of a child with autism and a founding board member of the League for People with Disabilities. She says her daughter’s favorite pastime is watching YouTube videos — and especially Barney. “I save Barney as a reward for excellent behavior,” shares Galli.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Children aren’t the only ones who need allies to make it through each day. It’s critical for parents to connect with other parents going through similar situations, too, so try to connect with support groups and online communities. These become safe places to share experiences, get advice, and find comfort in numbers. Multiple sites offer resources to connect with parents and educators of children on the autism spectrum. Remember, some days will be hard, but you’ll always have a network to connect with — don’t be afraid to reach out.