It’s World Autism Day. A day for raising awareness of autism, learning more about autistic spectrum disorders, and for celebrating the great people around us who have ASD.
We’ve come a long way since 1911 (when autistic spectrum disorders were first identified). We no longer subject non-neurotypical people to dehumanising ‘cures’. We no longer think that people with ASD are possessed by devils, or even that they’re being deliberately ‘naughty’. We know that autism is not a ‘defect’ caused by upbringing, or environmental factors, or vaccines. We’ve become a lot more understanding of neurological difference.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to have a child with ASD. While children with autism provide a unique perspective on life (which brings with it unique rewards), their differing emotional and sensory needs can also be challenging at times.
As the National Counselling Society, we fully understand that autism can affect family life in ways about which many of us feel guilty. Nobody wants to admit that they find it hard to understand their child, or that their child’s behaviour troubles them at times. However, failing to acknowledge the challenges presented by autism can also prevent you from acknowledging its blessings.
In this article, we’ll go through some important strategies for helping families to cope with autism.
Get help as early as you can
Children with autism don’t need ‘cures’ or ‘training’. But it will benefit them to gain specialist help. The right kind of help will enable them to cope with their own particular needs in a neurotypical world. As early as you possibly can, do things like:
- Get a diagnosis
- Establish your child’s particular needs, triggers etc
- Work out educational policies for your child
- Start any treatment needed
The younger your child starts learning to live with their ASD, the better their chance of adapting to the world and having a happy and healthy future.
Remember that you are important to your child’s future
Sadly, the world we live in does not make life easy for people with autism. Our society is designed for neurotypical people. For children with autism to survive and thrive as adults, a lot hangs on the skills they learn and the acceptance they feel as children.
That may feel like a huge amount of pressure on you. Not only do you have to raise your child to be healthy and happy, you also have to prepare them for a world which may not make life easy for them. It’s a big ask, and it can take its toll – particularly if you r child has special needs and/or behavioural issues related to their ASD.
What you need to remember is that, for your child to be happy and healthy, you need to be happy and healthy yourself. You can’t look after your child if you aren’t looking after yourself. So, be sure to practice self-care. This doesn’t mean indulging yourself at every opportunity (although a bit of indulgence doesn’t hurt!), it means things like the following:
- Eating healthily
- Exercising as and when you can
- Getting regular and good-quality sleep
- Learning where you source your own strength from, and respecting those sources
- Making time and space to fulfil your own emotional needs
- Doing things which make you feel happy, relaxed, and fulfilled
Of course, it’s not always easy to find the time to practice self-care when you’re a parent, so it’s also vital to…
Seek out support
We all need different amounts of support, and different kinds of support. It’s worth establishing what kind of support you require in order to raise your child as happily as you can.
Perhaps you need someone who understands your child’s needs to babysit every now and again, so that you can go out and enjoy yourself. Perhaps you need the experience of other parents in your situation, or the specialised skills of ASD experts. Maybe you need a group of friends with whom to let your hair down. Or perhaps you need the assistance of an accredited counsellor, who will give you a non-judgemental space in which to air your own concerns and emotions.
Build up a support network upon which you can rely. Even if you feel like you don’t need help from anyone, it’s worth having people to fall back on during hard times.
Learn how to be your child’s advocate
No child can really speak up for themselves, but children with ASD may find it harder than most to make their needs felt and their voices heard. It is impingent upon parents, guardians, and family members to fight for what children with autism need.
It isn’t always easy to put yourself forward and go into battle for your child – particularly when your child needs something which threatens to disrupt an established system. So it’s worth learning from parents and people with autism who have blazed the trail before you. They’ll help you to find your voice, and teach you how to engage with systems for your child’s benefit.
Love your child
You probably don’t need any help with this – but it’s worth stating anyway! Don’t let your child become an avatar of autism. Make sure that you continue to love them for and because of who they are. Don’t think of them as a child with a ‘condition’ – think of them as your child, whom you love. Celebrate their victories, be proud of them, and never lose sight of their essential humanity. They’re not bad or damaged. They’re just different.
Can counselling help?
An accredited counsellor can help anyone who is struggling. Coping with autism in the family can be stressful, and may bring out a range of emotions (including, but not limited to: guilt, anger, sadness, joy, and frustration). If you need a place to be yourself, to talk about yourself, to express your issues, and to learn coping techniques, it’s very much worth getting in touch with a local counsellor. Visit our website for more information on finding a counsellor who is right for you.