Tips For Parents And Caregivers To Help Autistic Child Lead A Better Life
Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. It affects day to day activities of the child.
The pandemic imposed severe restrictions on our movement, posing a problem for children who were deprived of their regular outdoor play. For autistic children this was especially challenging since any change in the routine can be very stressful for them. With the number of cases rising across the country, it is important to be careful and keep children home. This has created a unique challenge for parents of autistic children who must devise new methods to keep children engaged while keeping their routine as regular as possible.
People with autism broadly fall under two categories, high functioning and low functioning. High functioning autistic kids are intelligent and able to go through their day-to-day life with little support. But they may have problems communicating or interacting socially. Low functioning autistic children have an even tougher time communicating. They have difficulty recognising everyday objects and may not connect with their parents or family.
Autistic children can be verbal or non-verbal with the latter unable or unwilling to communicate with those around us. They can have difficulty with emotional attachment, rarely displaying a reciprocal bond with parents. They can also display obsessive behaviour, getting attached to a particular object for no apparent reason. These characteristics can make caring for an autistic child particularly challenging.
While the child may spend some time with therapists or teachers, most of their time is spent with their parents. Hence, it is important to educate them. They must accept and understand autism, how it affects their child, and the different therapies that they can seek. Today there are different types of therapies that can help an autistic child, including occupational, music, and speech therapy. Very often parents go for integrated therapy that combines different remedies. Sensory Integration therapy given by occupational therapist plays a major role in the improvement of autistic children.
Most importantly, parents have to take time to understand their child. The only way to achieve this is through spending quality time with them. However, what makes it challenging is that unlike some of their peers, autistic children may not show any attachment towards their parents. They may not even acknowledge parental touch or love. Hence, parents have to spend extra effort to understand and form that connection. They have to show love and support even when the child is hostile or non-responsive. The time they spend with their child should include some fun and not just revolve around educational activities.
Over time parents understand their kids better. They learn the child's triggers and what could potentially induce a meltdown. They can slowly help their child to communicate and develop independence as per their spectrum. It can help them deal with challenging situations such as the ongoing pandemic and its resultant disruptions.
Any change in the schedule must be introduced gradually. If parents intend to limit their outdoor time, they must do so gradually while keeping the rest of their schedule the same. You can work with your child to create a new schedule, giving them a choice of a different play activity. Provide them with a different avenue of continuing their schooling or therapy, such as through online classes. Online therapies can help kids find a different way of coping with their new circumstances. Avoid any stimulus for hyperactivity such as food with too much sugar or too much screen time.
Finally, parents must remember to take care of both themselves and their child. Household work and childcare must be supplemented with rest and nutritious food.
(Dr. Reepa Shroff is Assistant HOD of Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation Medicine at Saifee hospital)
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