It can be argued that being a parent to an autistic child is not that different from parenting a child without autism. The same core principles are the same: love and take care of your kid in the best ways that you can. Being a parent or guardian to an autistic child is just more difficult, and a lot of that is because the world at large measures success and advancement through a non-autistic lens.
To borrow a now-popular metaphor in the world of autism parenting, having an autistic brain is like being equipped with only a hairdryer in a world where everyone has a toaster and is expected to make toast. You can still make some toast, but it’s going to take more time, effort, and a different method than everyone else uses.
And that’s mostly what makes autism parenting comparatively harder than parenting non-autistic children: it requires more time, effort, patience, and creativity from both parents and the children with autism. However, difficult as it is, there are many ways to prepare yourself for this type of parenting.
Join the Community of Autism Families and Experts
It takes a village to raise a child, and for autistic children, that village is a tightly-knit community of parents, guardians, family members, and doctors who are very willing to share their knowledge of autistic parenting.
Never be afraid to ask these people any questions you may have about raising your child, whether online or offline. Their own experience with autism gives them valuable insight that can help make this easier for you and your family. Apart from giving you potentially useful parenting advice, they can also provide you with the social and emotional support that you need in times of great difficulty.
Just remember that all children are different. Just because your child exhibits the same symptoms as your neighbor’s doesn’t mean that you can just copy-paste their style of parenting. Advice helps, but what helps even more is having a thorough understanding of your child’s autism.
Become the Expert That Your Child Needs
We’re not literally saying that you should earn a diploma in special needs education (although that would absolutely help); we’re saying that you should familiarize yourself with how your child acts and reacts to the world.
While your autistic child is still developing, you are their ‘ambassador’ to the non-autistic world – a guide who can help them navigate through life and somehow communicate their intentions despite the many difficulties of being autistic. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert on all aspects and manifestations of autism – just an expert on your child’s personal, special needs.
What kind of medication, words, situations, places, actions, tools, toys, or other similar factors can trigger positive or negative reactions from your child? How quickly or slowly can your child process new information? How sensitive are they to visual and auditory stimulation? How badly do they react to negative sensory input or change in general? Knowing the answers to these questions can give you a much better idea of what to expect as well as how to respond better to your child’s wants and needs.
Never Underestimate Your Child
Being autistic can be difficult because it means that your brain functions differently from most of the other people on the planet. However, this also means that it can allow you to perform certain tasks with more ease and innovation than the next person.
For instance, one of the most known symptoms of autism is obsessive and repetitive behavior. The autistic person can be obsessed about anything: cars, music, visual art, mathematics, serial numbers, crafts, chess, karate, body parts, or even just shapes. Experts believe that part of this is because obsessive or repetitive behaviors allow autistic people some measure of control and predictability. When focused on that single topic or task, they’re more able to cope with uncertainty (most autistic children and adults are highly aversive to change).
Obviously, obsession can lead to stress, the inability to focus on anything else, and can even inhibit the autistic person’s ability to socialize. If your child can’t focus on anything else but memorizing serial numbers or the names of racecar models, it can interfere with their ability to socialize with their peers and learn other essential and basic information. But that’s not all that it can do.
Obsessive behavior can also pave the way for finding the child’s passion – a pursuit that can give their early/adult life meaning and purpose. In fact, the connection between genius and autism is something that has piqued the interest of scientists for decades.
Some say that Einstein himself was autistic, which could explain why, despite the impact he made in the world of physics, he actually did quite badly in school; at the time, basically all schools were ill-equipped to handle autistic needs. Other experts point to Michaelangelo’s combination of intense creative genius, having a single-minded routine, and poor social skills to be signs of high-functioning autism or asperger’s syndrome.
We’re not saying that your autistic child is going to be the next Mozart or Isaac Newton; although, we’re also not saying that they won’t be. If your child’s obsession can be focused into a hobby, activity, or skill, it can develop into something that can help them better navigate through life well into their adult years. But as you can imagine, this won’t be that easy.
It takes more than just love and patience from a parent. You also need to be aware of how your child processes information, if their obsession impacts them in any negative way, and how you can channel the obsession into something more positive.
Is your child willing to enroll in a course that centers around their obsession? What else can you do to steer them in the right direction without negatively affecting other parts of their mental and social growth? This is just one of the many challenges of raising an autistic child.
Never Stop Asking Questions
If you’ve never taken care of an autistic child before, remember that no single internet article can function as your all-purpose, go-to guide for autism parenting. Making it to the end of this article is just the beginning of your research into the autistic world. As you find out more, you will run into both useful and useless advice; just remember to keep your mind open for anything that makes sense for you and your child.
Even the most acclaimed experts will agree that parenting is not an exact science. A lot of it is trial and error, at times, more so when it comes to autistic children. So be open to any learning possibilities.
Simply observing and listening to your child’s reactions to immediate events, people, and surroundings can give you greater insight into your child’s special needs better than any article you find on the web. Likewise, anecdotal advice from autism parents can sometimes be more valuable than what an academic expert has to say. Always keep an open mind and never stop learning about autism.