Challenges Of Raising An Autistic Child
Having an autistic child can be life-changing and painstakingly hard for parents. However, recent studies show that parents of autistic children assume positive attitudes as they perform their children-rearing duties.
A study that looked into the coping skills of parents of children with autism confirmed that they lagged behind the parents of normal children in terms of overall mental and emotional health, however, they were able to show notable strengths and determination. Published in the Pediatrics journal, the study involved 62,000 mothers, 364 of whom have autistic child. Mothers of autistic children were as effective as the mothers of normal children in terms of developing strong bond with their children. Moreover, mothers of autistic children were five times better than mothers of children with other developmental disorders when it comes to bonding with their children.
Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests at the age of 3. This pervasive condition is marked by difficulty in communicating and inability to carry out social interactions. The severity of autism ranges from minor to severe. Having an autistic child can disrupt the normal life of parents and the family as a whole.
Dealing with this problem can affect the physical and mental health of parents, their personal relationship, and career prospects. However, there are a number of ways to keep one’s life in the right tract amid this challenge. The following tips will help parents cope with the challenges of raising an autistic child.
Know more about autism
A strong knowledge of autism is important in upbringing an autistic child. At present, one out of 150 children has autism spectrum disorder or ASD. ASD comprises various developmental disorders like Asperger’s syndrome. Children with ASD suffer from impaired social and communication skills and behavioral abnormalities.
Autism manifests during the formative years, so early diagnosis and intervention are very critical in helping autistic children cope with their disabilities.
The ultimate goal of autism treatments is to enable the child to function as do normal kids. Since autism symptoms change over time, treatment strategies should be changed accordingly to meet the specific needs of the autistic child. Autistic children tend to improve under specialized and highly structured treatments. The ideal autism treatment program focuses on developing communication and social skills, behavior, and adaptive and learning abilities.
Parents must consult autism experts to get the best education for their child. It would help if parents themselves are knowledgeable about the disorder. Parents must keep themselves abreast of government policy or public services for autistic children. Getting advice from other parents who have successfully raised an autistic child will also help a lot.
Examine autism intervention programs
Although there is no cure yet for autism, early intervention is critical. Behavioral training and skill modification can bring notable improvements. These intervention strategies address major autism symptoms such as inability to form social contact, repetitive behavior, and communication problems. Autistic children who get these treatments will be able to finish traditional education and participate in regular activities.
The following intervention programs have been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
- Behavioral training. Behavioral training teaches positive reinforcement, develops social skills, and fosters self-reliance. Some of the approaches to behavioral training are sensory integration, Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH), and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).
- Specialized treatments. These include speech and physical therapies. Speech therapy focuses on improving the communication skills of the child. On the other hand, physical therapy seeks to improve coordination and motor deficiencies. Occupational therapy could also be used to enable the child to process sensory information like sound, smell, images, and physical sensation.
Obtain support from social network
Raising an autistic child is a challenging task. The lack of communication and social interaction between the children and their caretakers makes the job more stressful. In some places, support services for autistic children are not available. Furthermore, parents tend to suffer from constant worries about their child’s prospects.
Given these challenges, parents need to have a strong support network.
They can seek emotional support from their friends and relatives. The social support from co-workers is also invaluable. On the other hand, professional assistance by doctors and caregivers will guide parents on treatment options.
There are also numerous parent-support groups which can provide educational tips and practical treatment advice.
Try behavioral training
Behavioral training develops the ability of autistic children – even adults – to communicate. This treatment program also improves behavior problems and adaptation skills.
Behavioral training and management make use of positive reinforcement. Social skills training is provided to autistic children to get them to talk. The treatment program is designed according to the specific needs of an autistic child. Autistic children who have less abnormalities may be allowed to join traditional classes so they can adopt normal behavioral patterns, whereas children with severe autism would learn better if placed in a highly structured environment.
Applied behavior analysis (APA) is an intensive form of behavioral training. It involves individualized training that may take 40 hours a week.
Behavioral therapy seeks to reinforce positive behaviors while suppressing undesirable ones. Children are required to follow certain steps so they can learn certain tasks. Sometimes, occupational and behavioral therapies are included in a single treatment session.
Educate family members about autism
Many parents of autistic children feel isolated. They reveal that their relatives tend to lose interest on the child. They notice that their autistic child is often denied invitation to birthday parties and other family events. In some families, spouses and siblings complain that the autistic child is getting too much attention. Although these reactions are normal, parents should strive to educate family members about the special needs of an autistic child.
Pay attention to children’s diet
Some experts believe that food allergies can trigger autistic symptoms, so it is worth considering what foods to give to autistic children. A diet that lacks specific vitamins and minerals may give rise to autistic symptoms. Before trying a special diet, consult with a dietician or pediatrician first.
Some parents claim that gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet has been beneficial to their autistic child. Gluten is commonly found in barley, oats, wheat, and rye. Casein, a form of protein, is found in dairy products such as milk. These two substances are thought to be responsible in the excessive production of opiates in the brain. An abnormal level of opiates can cause social awkwardness and can inhibit brain development. Since gluten and casein are present in almost all common foods, eliminating these two substances is quite impractical.
Some parents also report behavioral improvements in autistic children after giving them vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplements. However, no conclusive finding has been reached yet with regard to the effectiveness of both nutrients in treating autistic symptoms.
Consider safe medication for symptoms of autism
Parents may consider drugs that purport to treat certain symptoms of autism. Risperdal, an FDA-approved drug that was launched in 2006, is intended to treat irritability in youth with autism. Some drugs that are intended to treat ADHD can sometimes improve short attention span as well.
Drugs can only control certain symptoms of autism; they do not necessarily offer cure so far. Nevertheless, drugs can be helpful in preventing self-injury and other harmful or otherwise uncontrollable behaviors. Some drugs may be needed to help prepare autistic children for other treatments.
It is also important to realize that there are safe and effective natural treatments for autism using herbal and homeopathic remedies instead of prescription drugs.
Be wary of unproven treatments
Beware of new or unconventional treatments that purport to improve autistic symptoms. Some may be unsafe or not effective at all. It is easy to find unproven treatments online. Most of these treatments are not backed by thorough and reliable research. Experts consider them nonstandard and dubious. Although some parents may share anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of unproven treatments, it is better to conduct an independent research to assess the safety and reliability of such treatments. Dubious treatments usually met the following conditions:
- They purport to bring miraculous results.
- They are based on a medical principle merely inferred from broad scientific theories.
- Their advocates undermine the need for clinic trials and safety tests.
- They purport to improve only a single condition.
- They are mostly backed by anecdotal evidence and lack scientific proofs.
- They have no specific treatment goals.
Experts consider the following treatments unconventional:
- Facilitated communication. It involves the use of keyboard to facilitate communication.
- Immune globulin therapy. Its advocate assume that autism is caused by autoimmune abnormality.
- Chelation therapy. Its advocates claim that mercury exposure causes autism, thus justifying the use of this detoxification treatment.
- Secretin. The effectiveness of this hormone is mostly based on anecdotal reports. Alleged benefits include better sleeping patterns and language skills.
- Auditory integration training (AIT). This method seeks to address oversensitivity to noises, which is presumed by AIT advocates to be the cause of autism.
Take a break
Parents of autistic children need to take time to relax. Rearing an autistic child is very stressful and emotionally demanding, so parents need to unwind to protect their own health as well. Parents may need to seek counseling or psychological support in order to deal with the pressure and emotional burden of raising their autistic child.