Brittany is an autism mom and self-published author. Her son was diagnosed with autism in November of 2020.
Autism Parenting Versus Regular Parenting
Special needs parenting is very much the same as regular parenting. We all want to show our children love while teaching them to be self-sufficient. You strive to give your children everything they could possibly want and need. The only true difference comes down to the needs/wants of children on the spectrum. Kids with ASD have different mind sets from other children, and each child will fall on different parts of the spectrum (which is massive). Therefore, the needs of each child with autism spectrum disorder will vary. However, because kids on the spectrum process information differently from other children, their needs to grow and flourish can be a far cry from an average adolescent.
Special Needs of an Autistic Child
There are many traits of kids on the spectrum that help parents understand the type of help their child will need in order to advance. However, I must stress there is no cure for autism, but early intervention can help children with special needs achieve milestones and create a routine to help them reach goals quicker. Traits include, but not limited to, are trouble interacting with others, brief eye contact, unusual or repetitive behaviors, delays in milestones, difficulties learning, playing with toys in an odd way, clumsiness, getting easily frustrated and acting out, sensitive to light/sound, has trouble with speech, and may seem unemotional. Besides possible sensory issues, kids can also deal with low muscle tone and poor digestion.
Going back to the obvious, getting over stimulated is common. Everyday activities can be more difficult to process. Trips to the grocery store, the playground, family get togethers, or even birthday parties can literally cause a meltdown because it is too much to handle. Children with autism can only focus on one sense at a time, so being in a crowded and loud environment can make them feel uncomfortable. A good way to handle this is to keep a journal of what triggers your child so you can prevent any future meltdowns. If your child seems sensitive to sound, consider buying noise canceling head phones. It is also not uncommon for kids to be sensitive to certain fabrics of clothing. A lot of kids need tags cut off of clothing or cannot wear polo shirts or even button downs. I've even read of more severe cases in which the child cannot handle certain textures of food or even sounds to the point that they gag. This is also common with kids who have sensory processing disorder, but is common for a person with autism to share similar sensory stimuli.
On another hand, kids can also be sensory seekers. Everyday noises will not bother them. They seek adventure and a thrill, so they can put themselves in dangerous situations and not realize it. Examples include standing too close to someone when talking (not understanding personal space), chewing on objects or clothing, dumping toy bins and rummaging through them continuously, constantly on the move, loves spinning in circles, high pain tolerance, walking with heavy steps, and not knowing their own strength (which describes my child perfectly!).
Children with autism tend to be visual learners. Just because most struggle with language does not mean they are unreachable. I'd recommend to use strong visual tools and activities to get through to your little one such as a visual schedule to help them get through each day. Having a routine helps people with autism feel at ease, and is extremely important for progress.
People with autism need to be taught in a way that catches their attention since many have particular interests. Music therapy can be a great way to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain. A therapist can easily use a song to support cognitive activity to build self awareness and improve relationships. Music can also encourage communitive behaviors and interactions with others. For kids dealing with autism, music therapy is a great way to open up since socializing can be difficult.
Art therapy is a great way for children with special needs to learn how to express themselves. Through creating, children can learn about their emotions and cope with situations. This is a great example of a visual activity. Art therapy can help define fine motor skills and enhance visual skills (which can help your child become more aware of his/her environment).
Teaching sign language is a wonderful way to improve communication, especially for little ones who are not yet speaking. This can also help your child to imitate you and others in their lives. If a child is able to learn a few signs, then he/she is more likely able to pay attention and imitate what you are doing in other ways than sign language.
Giving a child with special needs extra time to process what they are taught is a big help when it comes to understanding a lesson or instruction. They cannot always respond or react right away and typically takes things literally. Patience is key. This comes in handy when you teach your child with ASD about emotions. It can be difficult to understand and portray emotions on their end, and they'll need that extra time to figure out which emotion they are feeling throughout their entire lives. It's a daily struggle, and it's our job as parents to be patient while they try to understand.
Expressions of Love
Many people do not enjoy being touched who are on the spectrum, so showing love can look a bit different. Some may show the sign for "I love you" who are nonverbal. Many will push people away who try to give them kisses on the cheek. Light touches can be overwhelming, and do not like it when a mother caresses their arm. If children on the spectrum choose to show affection, they will only do so on their terms. My son will not give kisses, but he very much enjoys bear hugs and squeezing hands. A lot of times a person with autism will show love by giving/doing something makes them happy to another person. This may include watching a documentary with them about penguins, offering logical help to a problem someone is facing, or buying you a gift of something they think you'll enjoy. Saying "I love you" can be weird for them, so they find simpler ways to show they care. Some may be able to handle physical gestures but cannot speak the words and vice versa. There are many forms of affection shown with people on the spectrum. They may seem distant and awkward, but they crave companionship like anyone else. It can just be difficult for them to show it.
Celebrating Small Victories
Special needs parents have learned to celebrate the small victories their children accomplish. We are grateful for the little things. A full night's sleep, expressing new interests, socializing with other kids their own age, clapping their hands, and trying new food can be a huge accomplishment for kids with autism. For the longest time I've felt that my child will not progress and hit certain milestones, so when my son finally started doing a couple of things he used to do before his regressions started (like blowing raspberries when displeased) I was ecstatic! For quite some time my son only expressed interest in Little Baby Bum (which is a musical television show for babies and toddlers), walking back and forth in his play room without any interest in his toys except for his ball pit, and gave little attention when being spoken to. Now, he is more alert, showing more interest in functional play, and sometimes imitates me in a very brief way. I cannot express to people enough how much this excites me! When your child is delayed and has fixated interests, anything new can have parents jumping out of their seats doing a happy dance.
Brittany Benko (author) from South Carolina on January 29, 2021:
Thank you, John.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 27, 2021:
This is a wonderful article that highlights the challenges and requirements of parenting children with special needs. Nice poetry too.