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What Not To Do With A Child With Autism

Published on 12/31/2021
what not to do with a child with autism

Anyone who has a child with autism knows that certain things help keep the functional peace and wellbeing of the household, and then there are the things that can ignite anxiety, disruptions, or meltdowns. 

For example, the proper diet can help children with ASD to regulate their emotions, while processed foods and red 40 can mean hours of dysregulation. Sometimes, the things people say, do, or allow, contribute to the challenges inherent with ASD.

7 Things To Avoid Doing Or Saying To A Child With Autism

Here are five things not to do with a child with autism to pave a more consistent road forward.

Confuse tantrums with a meltdown

Many parents and family members are triggered by a tantrum and automatically assume it is a meltdown when it’s not. It’s tricky when your child has ASD because the same tools used to avoid, redirect, or soothe a meltdown are not the same for a tantrum. As Autism.org states, meltdowns are specific, heightened responses to overstimulation and overwhelming situations.

On the other hand, tantrums are an unacceptable behavior (after toddlerhood) and are a reaction to being told, “No,” or not getting their way. That’s different. Establishing which is which in your child and addressing it is key. If your child sees he gets his way because you assume every tantrum is a meltdown, you become the victim of manipulation. That has nothing to do with ASD and everything to do with utterly normal childhood responses to parenting without boundaries.

The one thing they do have in common is that the individual needs quiet space and time to get through the emotional experience so that you and they can process the experience on the other side.

Turn down invitations for playdates and parties

It’s not easy when you know that playdates and parties come with significant potential triggers. The temptation is to RSVP “No” and keep the more predictable home routine intact. If your child wants to develop relationships with others, this is a big mistake. 

The good news is that society is more familiarized with ASD than ever before, and most parents are willing to support in any way they can. We recommend reading Planning the Best Playdate for Your Child with Autism to learn more about the best ways to promote healthy, positive socialization for your child. Some of the tenets include:

  • Communicating with the other parents about triggers/food/etc/
  • Schedule most dates at your home whenever possible
  • Identifying your child’s favorite things to play/do and then practicing for 10 to 15 minutes each day, presenting real-life scenarios for behavioral practice
  • Find a suitable match (children with similar interests and/or who are flexible, patient, generous, able to hold boundaries)
  • Keep playdates short and sweet to promote endurance down the road

Are you social? If not, this is your opportunity to stretch muscles and cultivate a more social environment for your child. Children learn most from their models (that’s you!).

Do not express pity 

If you are friends with a child with autism, don’t treat them with pity. Don’t treat their child with pity either. It’s okay and lovely to empathize with the challenges to a point but move forward with the realistic perspective that every human brings strengths and “weaknesses” to the table. 

Instead, get curious (especially if your child is in the same class or makes friends with children with ASD). Ask questions so you can support the child and the parent:

  • What triggers should you be aware of?
  • What are your favorite foods and activities to know about and embrace?
  • Is there any support you can offer? 

If a child with autism hears pity, dismay, or sadness in your voice, s/he’ll associate that with the idea that something is wrong with him/her, which can diminish confidence and undo some great work!

On the flip side, if your child is the one with autism and you feel overwhelmed, sad, grief, etc., that’s perfectly normal, but the same tenet applies. Again, it’s best to keep those emotions processed with other adults, therapist(s), behavioral specialists, or support groups to keep them from flowing over onto your child.

Wait too long to have an assessment or receive support

It’s not easy to acknowledge “something seems different here” when you fear having a child with ASD. We get it. However, as with anything, the sooner ASD is assessed, and a plan is in place, the more successful you can be. There are distinct signs of ASD. While pediatricians are getting better and better and identifying them during routine appointments, it’s not a guarantee by any means. 

If you notice or suspect your child is showing signs of autism or autism-like behaviors, schedule an assessment. 

Think soft, slow, simple, and specific when giving instructions

Regardless of the fact, your child may have memorized every known galaxy in the universe, children with autism are typically slow processors who are quickly overwhelmed. Therefore, instructions must be given softly, slowly, and with simple, specific details.

If you bark, “I’ve told you a million times to put your cereal bowl in the sink and add water so the crumbs don’t dry on the side.” Your child may seem non-compliant when, in fact, she’s stuck in overwhelm. Instead, calmly remind her, “put your bowl in the sink, please.” Then, as she does do, remind her, “Please fill the bowl with water.” Odds are she’s more likely to do so as instructed and with less delay or resistance/confusion.

Don’t take things personally

It won’t matter how perfect you are, how often you follow the rules, or how much your life is devoted to supporting a child with ASD’s needs. There are inevitable conflicts, issues, meltdowns, and struggles headed your way. Physical displays of affection may rarely happen as you wanted them to, and there are ways in which you may never connect with your child the way you imagined you would before your diagnosis. 

Try not to take things personally (we know it’s hard, but it’s a good mantra anyway). 

Instead, gather all of the support you possibly can get creative about reframing how you connect with your child and remind yourself that you are doing an amazing job!

Don’t assume a nonverbal child with autism doesn’t communicate

The animal kingdom is largely nonverbal, yet it communicates 24/7 through body language and behavior. Unfortunately, we forget that studies show words only comprise about 7% of communication, while vocalizations (38%) and body language (55%) contain the rest. When you look at it that way, your child with ASD communicates far more than most people give him credit for. 

Communication happens through a myriad of channels. Parents, family members, and friends of individuals with ASD have the opportunity to become fluent in body language and vocalizations in ways others do not. 

  • Smiling
  • Pointing
  • Blinking
  • Hitting
  • Pointing
  • Stimming (repetitive or unusual noises or actions)
  • Hugging
  • Frowning
  • Walking away

Deciphering these behaviors is key to understanding your child.

Do you need further support to help your child with autism find his/her way in the household, at school, with friends, and in social settings? Schedule an appointment with the Autism Response Team. We carefully craft assessment-based interventions to address these issues, increasing the functioning of individuals with ASD.

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