Nothing compares to the excitement of being matched with a waiting child, right? Ask any parent who has been through the matching process, and they’ll probably tell you that there’s also nothing that compares to the anxiety that can come on after you’ve been matched. Especially if the child has some diagnoses that you don’t know much about – like autism spectrum disorder. Maybe what you know is based on prime-time dramas, a news article here or there, some Facebook posts from a group you’re in. You’re not really sure if what you know is accurate, you are sure that your family could be a good fit for the child, and you aren’t about to let something you’ve not encountered before scare you away.
So how can you prepare yourself so that you rise to the challenges rather than being scared off by them? When it comes to autism spectrum disorder, there are so many great resources available to help families and children of all ages – it’s just a matter of finding the right information. In this blog post, we’ll cover some of the basics of what to expect with autism spectrum disorder. A little later in the month, we’ll get into some specifics for families right here in Indiana — summer camps, social support groups, and so on. And we’ll share the story of a family newly formed through adoption, and how they have identified support networks to help with their autistic son.
The first thing to remember: autism looks different for everyone. It’s a spectrum disorder, so one child’s autism may manifest itself differently than another child’s. It impacts all aspects of a person’s life, but the extent to which someone is impacted will vary. People on the autism spectrum will perceive, experience, and interact with the world differently than someone who is not on the autism spectrum – but no two people on the autism spectrum are alike.
What can you expect? The way you’ll learn the most about what to expect from your child is by talking to their current team – therapists, teachers, skills coaches, etc. The people who have been working with your new placement are the ones who will be able to help you understand your specific child – and since no two people on the autism spectrum are alike, it’s especially important to learn about your child’s autism from the people who know them best.
You will also want to do your research by seeking out educational information from reputable organizations. This way, you will enhance your understanding of autism spectrum disorder overall, which you can then use as a foundation upon which to layer the insights given to you from your child’s team. There’s no shortage of information out there, so be sure you’re gathering insight from well-known, established organizations with evidence-based approaches, like National Autism Association, Autism Speaks or The Autism Society.
Many children with autism have difficulty with certain types of sensory experiences. Hands in Autism has created a two-page document that explains how autism can impact the senses. Some people are highly sensitive to certain sensations, such as sounds, smells, or lights. Because of how the autistic brain processes information gathered through the senses, that sensitivity may cause your child to become upset, scared, or seem confused. Others require more time to adjust to changes in routine, and can be frightened in new situations or around unfamiliar people.
Communication can also be a struggle for children with autism. Some will be able to use their words to communicate, and others will be better at expressing their needs and wants through visuals. Talking or playing with others may be difficult for some autistic youth, so their social interactions with peers may be different from what you’re used to. It may be helpful to share some resources with parents of your child’s peers, so they can help educate their own child learn how to be a good friend to someone with autism. Having peers who understand that sometimes your child who may not be able to explain their frustrations, may seem inflexible about playing new or different games, etc. can be critical to your child feeling welcome and stable in a social setting. Plus, your child’s friends will gain valuable insight into how each person is different, and will learn not to be afraid of your child’s behavior.
Many people with autism engage in repetitive, routine behaviors. Perhaps they repeat the same thought over and over again, or make certain gestures or movements. Or maybe you’ve noticed that they’re not playing with their toys as much as lining them up and organizing them. This is one of the ways that they process information and make sense out of their understanding of the world. It can also help lessen their anxiety. If you’re experiencing negative behaviors from your autistic child, like defiance or aggression, identify how to address those with the help of the child’s team. Those behaviors should not just be chalked up to the fact that the child is autistic, although they may be rooted in communication struggles, frustrations, fear, and other feelings that your child is having difficulty with.
Through it all, don’t forget that your child has some amazing abilities and strengths — they may look different from other children’s, but they’re important nonetheless. Praise the successes, even if they’re little — and then build on them. Ongoing education, finding family support groups, forming a strong team of advocates for your child — all of these will go a long way toward helping your family adjust to the dynamics of an autistic child in your home.