Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder where a child has difficulty interacting or communicating with other people. It is a spectrum disorder, meaning the severity of symptoms can range from mild to very severe. Symptoms vary from child to child but in general a child with autism has difficulty understanding subtle requests and directions, becomes easily overwhelmed by noisy or busy environments and prefers not to be touched. Each child with autism is different. Only a parent or immediate caregiver will be able to identify the child’s likes, dislikes, triggers and expectations.
The following are some things that you should know when taking care of an autistic child:
Stick to the child’s routine
Following the child’s routine especially at mealtime and bedtime is imperative. Children with autism prefer following a structure and can become upset or agitated if their routines are not adhered to.
Play with the child’s favourite toys
The child’s parents can help you learn about their favourite toys. Proceed slowly. Sit alongside the child and engage in mimicking what he or she does. This will surely attract his attention and help him join you. This strategy also helps to build the child’s comfort level.
Encourage cooperation by offering the toys as a reward
The autistic child regards playing with his special toys as something special. If you’re having difficulty getting him to cooperate, use these special toys as a reward. For example, “Alok, if you brush your hair, you can play with your puzzle set.”
Wanting to play alone or limit interaction with you is okay
Do not feel offended if the child opts to play by himself or prefers not to interact with you. It is part of the disorder. Simply sit back and observe and ensure the child is safe.
Maintain an environment that is calm
Avoid inviting people or friends over when the child is home, especially if he is not familiar with them. Skip a trip to the supermarket or playground if you know it is going to be busy.
Tread slowly with physical contact
Unlike other children, an autistic child is set off by tickles and hugs. He usually prefers not to be touched. Speak to his parents about how the child prefers to receive affection. For example, a smile, a high five, a thumbs up etc.
Learn how to deal with difficult behaviors
Speak to the child’s parents about what to expect when the autistic child is throwing a tantrum or experiencing a meltdown. Ask them what you can do to support the child. Typically, if the child is not hurting others or himself, it is best to let the tantrum playout. Ensure the child is safe and near you or within your field of view. When you notice the child is settling down, bring out his favourite toys as it may help to distract him. Some children with autism calm down by listening to music while others like to cuddle with their favourite blanket.
While the child is calming down, note down the time of the tantrum/meltdown and the antecedent, behavior and consequence or ABC. This can be helpful to his parents.
Taking care of an autistic child is challenging, however with knowledge and a little preparation in hand, you can be successful.