Nana Adjoa Konadu Attiah
How to Help a Child with Autism Cope Better
Over the years, the awareness of autism has grown tremendously, and more individuals have become more conscious of its signs. It is an excellent win that the world has gotten to this stage. However, as much as we have become more aware of the disorder, there is still a long way to go in unpacking the ins and outs of it. Today we will focus more on the basics and some coping mechanisms that parents can use for their children on the spectrum.
What is Autism?
Autism is a disorder considered as being on a spectrum hence the term autism spectrum disorder. It is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that is mainly characterized by “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, including deficits in social reciprocity, nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and skills in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, P. 49). It is important to note that individuals on the spectrum usually present with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Signs need to be present from the early developmental years of an individual, and one cannot develop autism later in life, though some people are diagnosed later in life. Considering that autism presents in the formative years of an individual, the primary caregivers are parents, who need to help children develop suitable coping mechanisms.
Autism is not contagious, so there is no need to isolate oneself from people with the disorder but rather be open to understanding and interacting with them.
Coping Mechanisms for Children with Autism
As a disorder that cannot be cured but can only be managed, several coping mechanisms must be developed to help people with the condition. Attention should be given to assisting individuals in identifying their strengths and managing the disorder’s difficulties. Levelled below are several coping mechanisms parents can adopt or teach their children to help manage the disorder.
Find Specialists for Your Child
The most essential and fundamental step is finding your child specialists. Children on the autism spectrum must have a psychologist who would equip them with safe and adequate techniques to manage the social challenges and other challenges they may be facing. This gives them an advantage of better socialization and protects their mental health. Other specialists, like occupational therapists, can help children develop healthy play skills, learning strategies, and self-care techniques. A speech therapist can also help children with language, speech and communication deficits improve them.
Teach Them to Understand Their Emotions
Children with autism may process and describe their emotions differently. It may be difficult for individuals on the spectrum to feel, identify, label, and understand their emotions. Therefore, it is necessary for parents to first learn how to understand the emotions their children feel. Once a parent has mastered this, they must teach the children how to do the same. This can be done by labelling emotions presented during daily interactions to help them better understand them. Another technique is to use emotion cards or animations to teach them how to identify complex emotions.
Teach Them Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are essential to help children with autism cope better because certain things can trigger them, for example, bright lights, strong smells, irritating noises, etc., which may agitate them. Techniques such as focused breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and meditation, among others, can be taught to them to help calm them in such situations. Parents can also equip children with sensory and fidgety toys, which can help them focus on other things or soothe them.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596 https://www.healisautism.com/post/coping-strategies-teach-children-autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/coping-skills-reducing-overwhelm/