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How to best support a child with Autism

By being aware of the difficulties a child with autism may encounter you can offer an environment which supports and limits the levels of stress and anxiety they experience. There is no 'cure' for autism but there are many things parents and carers can do to help.

  • Speak in a clear and consistent manner, allowing your child sufficient time to process language.

  • When giving an instruction wait before repeating it, as your child will need longer to process what you have asked.

  • Use pattern and routines to help your child feel safe and secure.

  • Liaise closely with your child's school and teachers to ensure there is consistency in the methods of support and expectations of your child.

  • Kneel down to your child's level when speaking to them so you can encourage them to make eye contact with you.

  • When giving instructions start with your child's name, so they immediately recognise you are addressing them. Often children with autism are uncertain you are speaking to them unless this is made clear.

  • Take time to prepare your child for new routines and situations so anxiety is reduced, perhaps share pictures or photos of the new experience beforehand. Videos are also a useful aid.

  • Try to avoid extensive verbal instructions as your child may struggle to remember the sequence.

  • Autistic children often have specific talents, perhaps drawing or an interest in ICT, try and foster such skills as these could be future employment or career opportunities.

  • Turn your child's fixation with a specific topic or interest into learning opportunities. If for example your child is particularly interested in dinosaurs or models of car, link this to reading factual books or perhaps learning about geographical or historical concepts. Aim to use their specific interest for other learning opportunities as this will ensure they are engaged and interested.

  • When teaching mathematical skills aim to use visual concrete objects as otherwise your child's may struggle with the verbal language used to explain a concept.

  • Understand that fine motor control and writing is difficult for a child with autism, and avoid pressurising a child to write neatly as this will cause stress and anxiety. Instead, perhaps encourage them to type or explore practical ways of developing their fine motor skills.

  • When teaching reading it is perhaps easiest for a child to learn through the phonics approach, as they can learn the letter sounds and accompanying actions. Often children with autism like to see a picture and action, as this aids memory. The Jolly Phonics approach with actions, visual aids and songs supports autistic children.

  • Try and limit loud sounds and those noises which may upset of frustrate your child. The fear of such sounds often results in difficult behaviour. For example,  the sound of scrapping chairs can be eliminated by using Felt pad furniture gliders. It may also help if you tape loud sounds, such as fire alarms, to support your child in gradually listening to them being played back, increasing the volume slightly each time. However, is is essential that the child has control of the playback of the sound.

  • Aim to avoid florescent or flickering lights as this can be a source of anxiety for children with autism.

  • Often autistic children do not realise that speech is used to communicate needs, so if your child ask for something, when in fact you know they want something else, make sure you give them what they actually asked for. This will help them to understand that words and speech result in concrete things happening. Your child needs to realize that the incorrect word will result in the incorrect object being given to them. This may seem hard to do, but in fact this is the easiest way to help your child understand the need for correct and specific language.

  • Avoid using phrases which may be interpreted literally by your child such as 'it's raining cats and dogs', 'on it's last legs', 'a piece of cake'. Idioms can really confuse children with autism so are best avoided. 

  • Sometimes children with visual processing problems will find reading much easier if printed materials or written words are presented on coloured card to eliminate contrast. Use different colours to see which is most suitable for your child, avoiding yellow which is too bright for a child's eyes.

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