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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Raising Children with High Functioning Autism

If your child has been diagnosed with high functioning autism, parenting can be a challenge. 

The main reason is because autistics do not think and mentally develop the same way as the average child, and so must be taught individually and differently.  Therefore, the challenge is finding out what parenting methods work for your autistic child. 

Essentially, it's a lot of trial and error.

Raising a child with high functioning autism can be made easier by providing children with the necessary therapy they require. 

However, aside from therapy, the following are 5 basic parenting tips that may prove helpful along the way:

Tip 1 - Create Schedules – Most autistics, including those with high functioning autism, resist change and insist on routine.  Creating schedules helps autistic children to better comprehend situations and learn.  You need to provide your child with a daily schedule that shows him/her the order of activities they will experience.  If your child has difficulty reading, create a picture schedule.

Furthermore, telling a child in advance that an activity is about to change, helps to create an easier transition for them. 

For instance, tell your child "In 5 minutes, we're going to stop coloring and read a story".  

Tip 2 - Create understanding – Make sure your child understands what you want him/her to do.  Ensure that the task you are asking is achievable and you understand the specific way in which your child learns and reacts to information told to him/her.

For instance, you should refrain from using figures of speech as part of instruction.  A figure of speech is when you use an expression that has a non-literal meaning (eg: raining cats and dogs).  This form of language will be lost on an autistic.  Thus, a better choice would be to use a visual aid such as a picture or a demonstration, to clarify the task or as in the example above just say "raining a lot".

Tip 3Create a personalized behaviour plan – You can't rely on the parenting methods that work for parents with regular children, or even those who have a child with high functioning autism.  You need to create a program that is specifically oriented around the interests and needs of your child.  This means analyzing your child's behaviour and creating a personal program based on his/her behavioural patterns.  This is how you will eventually get your child to learn, respond and interact with others.

Tip 4Focus on improvement – Instead of trying to explain to your child what you don't like when they do something you deem inappropriate or unproductive, focus on improving their behaviour.  If you want to improve on past behaviours, teach new "acceptable" ones to replace the old.

Teaching new behavioural skills will take plenty of time, patience and practice, but eventually the new acceptable behaviours will replace those you don't approve of.

Tip 5Sensitivity alert! – Make sure you are aware of the triggers that will upset your child, so you can do your best to ensure they are avoided.  Some issues that tend to upset those with high functioning autism include, but are not limited to:

• Sudden loud sounds (eg. alarms)
• Unusual smells in a particular room
• Discomfort when touched
• Being bumped

Although you can't ensure your child will always be safe from sensitive issues, by knowing what they are helps you to have more control.  Like any child, the less stress your autistic child has, the more productive they will be.

Remember, as a parent of a child with high functioning autism, you need to learn how to go with the flow, be creative, patient - and above all – maintain a positive attitude. 

Rachel Evans - author of "The Essential Guide to Autism"