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Diagnosis of autism in children can come as a hard blow, but with timely interventions, you can help your child through the condition in a systematic way. This Autism Awareness Day (2nd of April) we rewrite the script for parents of children with autism. Hearing that your child has autism spectrum disorder can fling you down a rabbit hole of emotions—fear, worry, anxiety, trepidation, uncertainty, and everything in between. It’s not a diagnosis you can ever be fully prepared for, and seeing it set in stone can be particularly unnerving. Dealing with a child who has autism requires preparation on your part, but with the right interventions at the right time, you can give your child a healthy foundation for cognitive, mental, social and psychological development. Understanding autism Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella of conditions characterised by a triad of challenges– namely social skills, repetitive behaviours and communication. People with autism typically lack empathy and the ability to relate to others’ perspectives. Communication problems may manifest as the non-existent use of language and the inability to hold a meaningful conversation. Repetitive behaviours may take the form of repeated movements, or repeated sentences or observations. Some children may exhibit more typical inclinations, but become fixated on a specific set of interests. Symptoms of autism in children usually come to light between 18 and 36 months of age. How to help a child with autism thrive There are several things you can do to help your child ace life with autism. Here’s a round-up of some practices you can adopt. Establish a routine A child with autism can flourish with a structured, orderly schedule. Maintain consistent timings for meals, outings, school, therapy, naps and bedtime. Changes in the schedule may agitate your child, so if you do preempt disruptions, make sure to sensitise your child in advance. Practise positive reinforcement Holding up good behaviour can do wonders for your child’s temperament, bringing about positive changes. Praise them for good etiquette, for mastering a new skill, or anything else you’re proud of. Also, think of ways to make simple, yet lasting reinforcements—reward with a gold star, a favourite sweet, or perhaps some extra playtime. Divide your home into visual zones Visual cues can go a long way in helping your child recognise separate zones for separate activities. Use coloured masking tape to square off the living room in green, the dining room in blue, the kitchen in red, and so on. Also, label important items with pictures to help your child identify objects when you’re not around. Create a sanctum of safety Children with autism need space to self-reflect, feel safe and just relax. In this vein, it’s a good idea to designate a space in your home where your child can pull away from the world and hibernate. If your child has a history of self-harm, ensure that this zone is free of sharp corners, hard surfaces and breakable objects. You’ll find an assortment of child-proofing devices on the market to help you make your home safe and secure. Communicate without speaking A child with autism can introduce you to the magic of non-verbal communication; which you’ll find connects you to your child in far better ways than talking ever could. Picking up on non-verbal cues can be hard at the outset, but in time, you’ll learn to read the nuances. Likewise, your language is more than just the words you speak; it’s your tone, your mannerisms, your touch. Find ways to converse with your child, while leaving the words out. Identify hypersensitive sensory stimuli Autism in children can trigger hypersensitivity to specific stimuli such as light, touch, sound, smell and taste. Observe what affects your child and what doesn't. Understanding your child’s emotional spectrum can help you impede challenging situations, arrest potential problems and create a happy environment at home and away. Seek out a support network Caring for a child with autism isn’t easy; it can be draining, mentally, emotionally and financially. On days when you feel like you’ve reached your breaking point, remind yourself that it takes a village—or in this age, a complete neighbourhood—to raise a child, let alone one with special needs. Lean on your family, your friends and trusted support groups to help you navigate this journey. A helping hand—or many—will hold you in good stead. Treating autism Autism treatments span a range of approaches including behavioural therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and nutritional counselling. At Rainbow Hospitals, our pediatricians and child specialists work with your child to tailor a customised treatment plan reflective of their needs and profile. With an intervention in place for your child, you can rest assured that they will receive the care, love and attention they need to thrive in the real world.
Consultant Developmental Pediatrician
Rainbow Children's Hospital, Banjara Hills