Life is a complex journey filled with all sorts of experiences, relationships, and ideas. As we reflect on our own lives it’s natural to wonder what experiences await our young children on the autism spectrum. We’ve shared plenty of resources and advice applicable to many of life’s stages. In this post, we reflect on those to discuss the autism journey, and what it might look like for children on the spectrum.
The autism journey starts very early for some. Many parents who are dealing with a new autism diagnosis find immense sadness or even anger when they receive the news. However, with an increasingly connected community of supporters and parents just like you, the resources and help available can ensure that you and your child lead a happy and fulfilled life. Here are a few of the tips we suggest in this early stage:
- Take a second to breathe, then start looking for support resources.
- Explore treatment options with your doctor, and if possible, those covered by insurance.
- Remember to take care of yourself, and use your resources through the community.
- Have patience with your child and learn to understand their symptoms.
As you get your bearings, don’t be afraid to lean on your family and support system as necessary.
Wide Range of Symptoms
There are several common symptoms that many individuals on the spectrum share or experience to some degree. Some of the most common include:
- Challenges with verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Challenges reading and understanding social cues and by extent, challenges with social interaction.
- Sensitivity to sensory stimulation and interpretation, causing sensory meltdowns or tantrums.
- Delayed developmental learning and cognition and by extent, challenges in traditional classroom settings.
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A famous quote by autism advocate Dr. Stephen Shore says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” When asked why the quote is significant, Shore made it clear that not all people on the spectrum have the same experiences with autism.
This wide range of symptoms can make it difficult to tell when a person is on the spectrum. Some individuals experience adverse effects on their cognitive functioning with more severe symptoms causing them to be non-verbal, have more meltdowns, or become hypersensitive to sensory stimuli. Others resemble their neurotypical counterparts in nearly all facets of their life. Many grow into adults who are highly independent and gainfully employed, while others may need more assistance in their adult lives. Either way, as our understanding of autism’s wide range of symptoms evolves, so does society’s autism awareness, acceptance, and support. Thankfully ABA therapy can help children manage all of their symptoms.
Applied behavior analysis therapy is the leading methodology proven to bring about positive changes in the behavior of children with autism. ABA therapy focuses on principles like positive reinforcement to support your child’s learning.
Positive reinforcement is best characterized as the rewarding or encouraging of behaviors that are deemed positive to increase the likelihood that a child will want to display that behavior again. Through years of research, people working with ABA have developed methods of learning that encourage beneficial behavior and reduce instances of potentially harmful or repetitive behaviors.
Effectively teaching children with autism about positive behavior can be a difficult and time-consuming process. Basic social skills that may come naturally to the neurotypical child may need to be broken down into much smaller steps. However, If given the proper time, effort, and patience, children with autism can ultimately be independent and thrive in social settings through continued center-based ABA treatment.
Beyond ABA, you can also take some steps to help support your child’s behavior at home.
- Use time and scheduling to reduce stress & tantrums from change. It’s no secret, children on the spectrum tend to thrive when they are in a structured setting. The best way to build structure at home is to use time and scheduling to break up your child’s day and activities in a way that they can understand and expect.
- Use tech & games designed for development and learning. If your child loves electronics, why not take advantage of their screen time by making it beneficial to their learning and development? There’s a variety of apps out there built to help children develop cognitive skills with creative games and activities.
- Create a safe zone within your home. Try creating a safe zone within your home if you feel your child has reached the developmental milestones where this is a safe possibility.
- Remain positive & calm. Remaining calm to the best of your ability can make all the difference when dealing with challenging behavior.
- Build on behavior therapy. One of the simplest things you can do to improve your child’s behavior at home is to build on the things they learn in therapy.
School and Academics
As ABA uncovers some of the best ways to reinforce positive behavior, parents and teachers can use these strategies as a tool to increase productivity at school and when working on school work at home. Some of the effective reinforcers for academic success might include:
- Verbal Praise
- Special treats or favorite foods
- Recreational/free time
- Specific activities like recess, going to the park, etc.
Utilizing these can help your child succeed through their early academic career and moving into the next stage of their journey.
Puberty and Teen Years
As your child grows and learns to navigate their life more independently, it can be daunting trying to prepare them for adolescence. Thankfully you won’t necessarily have to do it alone. Most schools will take plenty of steps in preparing your child for the changes that will come in their course load and expectations. Beyond that, you can do your best to start describing some of the things that will change for your child with autism early on.
Teenage years always come with extra social pressures, do your best to help your child alleviate them with a few assists:
- If any kids near the same age will be attending the new school, work with them and their parents to set up a buddy system, so they can rely on each other in the new environment.
- Find out what, if any, clubs or events your child would be comfortable attending and get them enrolled.
- Work with your child 1 on 1 on some social communication skills. Practice an interaction, teach them good questions to ask, and do your best to be a source of information for them.
- Help them embrace their new interests in a healthy way. Pick extracurriculars and elective classes that they will enjoy.
You may be wondering how best to build independence in your child early. Fortunately, there are many ways to foster independence in your child’s life in a way that is most beneficial and safe for them. Some of the best ways to build independence include focusing on:
- Building communication skills.
- Scheduling and daily routines.
- Accomplishing tasks around the house.
- Practice and discussing safety
- Practice with Money and Vocational Skills
- Learning Self-Care
These skills can help your children become more independent and successful adults and can even be a gateway into a fulfilling career.
Children on the autism spectrum can experience severe challenges with their behavioral and cognitive development. As such, they can be at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping up with their neurotypical peers in school and in social settings. That leads many parents to wonder- what kind of careers can my child succeed in as an adult?
Some of the potential career paths include:
- Technology- The tech industry values structure, and more often than not- flexible working environments. This can be a great fit for adults on the spectrum interested in technology, coding, or mathematics.
- Working with Animals- Many children on the spectrum find comfort in animals and pets.
- Working in Science or Research- If there is anything that careers in science and research value its a supreme attention to detail. These careers can also be very task and project-oriented, offering plenty of structure.
- Writing or Reporting- Individuals on the spectrum can be especially good at gathering and stating facts about their interests and situations. Writing can also be the preferred method of communication for some people with autism who struggle with verbal communication.
- Manufacturing and other Trades- Manufacturing and the trades can offer very structured work environments and excellent job security. Though some will be more physical- many require repetitive action and specific routine. This makes manufacturing and trade a great option.
As your child grows their journey may look different than yours, but that doesn’t make it any less valid or potentially successful.For more ABA and autism-related news and tips visit our blog and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter! If you have questions regarding ABA therapy services or you’re interested in visiting one of our locations, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on our contact page. We’re always here to answer your questions and support your family’s needs as best as we can.