The Center for Disease Control defines autism as "a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges." It estimates that about one in 54 kids are autistic and explains that autism's found in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Whether your child is autistic or not, you shouldn't ignore the subject. Talking about autism normalizes it.
Christine (Chris) Weiss is a mother, author and educator. She is the author of Educating Marston, a compelling memoir about a mother and son’s journey through autism. She knows first hand what it is like to raise a child on the autistic spectrum as her son Marston is autistic. When she first started raising Marston, there was very little research or information about autism. She had an incredible difficult journey preparing him to live an independent life. Chris indicates that working with an autistic child in the home setting is challenging, but can be done with the proper support system.
1.Make sure you have a daily routine. Autistic children tend to like structure and take comfort in its predictability. We made a daily schedule with Marston and wrote it on a big dry erase board. It listed such things as:
- Wake up time
- School work
- Chores that needed to be done on certain days such as laundry, vacuum, change sheets,
- zoom meetings with friends and family to keep up socialization (especially during Covid)
2.Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many adults and children looking for a summer job that would appreciate the extra money. Encourage these helpers to get involved by taking your child to a play date, a movie or out to dinner. These are all life experiences that can help your child as well as give the parents a respite.
3. List your child’s weaknesses, their strengths, how to address them, and if therapies are making a positive impact. This evaluation helps to know where to concentrate efforts and when to look for alternative therapies. The list can include their diet, speech, coordination, hygiene, vision, and cognition. We began chipping away at these each and every day.
4. Keep them busy over the summer. Look for a summer camp that is designed for similar children. This can be an overnight or a day camp. It is a little scary sending your child away, but it develops skills that can't be developed at home. Check out local YMCA and see if they have a swim program/lessons for special needs kids. There are special needs swim instructors. The sensory aspect of water is calming and enjoyable, helping to regulation emotions as well as balance.
5. Teach your child responsibility. If they are old enough, look for a summer job. It teaches your child responsibility, helps to decrease idle time, increases socialization, and decreases fears of unknown. There is vocational rehabilitation (a state-run, county administered program to help developmentally disabled adults find and keep employment). Also ask friends and family if they need help. They may appreciate the extra help.
6. Keep a strong support system. The best advice given to me, is that parents of special needs children need special needs themselves. They need to know more, to do more, so they need more patience, comforting, understanding, compassion, and rest than the parents of normal children.