Connecting with your child Diagnosed with Autism
A big loving hug with your kids especially at the end of the day momentarily takes away all the stress in a parent’s life. Much of the research over the last decade also shows direct links between affection in childhood and health and happiness in the future.
This is no different for parents with kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD). Most parents crave for a loving emotional connection with their child who comes under the Spectrum. It is very natural but as adults, parents need to remember that children diagnosed with ASD think, feel, speak and behave differently from their peers.
Often a child diagnosed with ASD seems to be aloof and lost in his/her world. When parents approach them in a stereotypical way, they may end up feeling rejected as their children may not respond in a similar way as their peers. In most cases, the actions of children diagnosed with ASD are misinterpreted. Parents need to understand that they can also develop an affectionate relationship with their kids diagnosed with ASD, just that the approach towards this needs to encompass the diagnoses of their child. Some ways that can help the parents in their journey are:
1. Self-regulation: - As Oscar Wilde had said “I don’t want to be at mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them” Being a parent of a child diagnosed with ASD can be a very emotional journey full of questions, confusion, anxiety, frustrations, helplessness and a lot of times not knowing what to feel. It is very important to remember that this emotional state can neither influence your expectation from your child nor your behavior towards him/her. Your child is going through his/her own dilemmas and he/she does not the extra burden. Self-care becomes an essential part of self-regulation for parents. Scientific data suggest that taking time out even for 30 mins for oneself every day and doing that relaxes and install positivity in yourself, helps a long way. As a wise man had said, we can’t pour from an empty cup. Therefore, taking care of oneself becomes essential.
2. Importance of communication: - When we hear ‘communication’, we automatically think of different and appropriate words to say. However, non-verbal communication can be as affective and in a lot of cases more helpful than many words. One of the most important things to remember for parents is that they can help their child immensely by making it easier for them to process any new information and also to connect, only though how they choose to communicate with their child. Let's take an example, when we ask the child to do something and he/she does not respond appropriately, parents tend to repeat themselves. Sometimes, the repetition is multiple times and then in most cases, it ends up with the parents getting frustrated and reacting. For a child diagnosed with ASD, this is a very overwhelming scenario that could escalate the child’s anxiety and end up in an unappropriated behavior like headbanging, shouting, or screaming. To make this exchange productive for both sides, parents should limit their words and say it in as many few words as possible. Then they should give their child time to process what has been said. Conveying what they want to say can be through visual clues like cards and pictures rather than only words. This whole process may take some hits and misses but if the parents are able to figure out what suits their child, they would be amazed to see how much it can make a difference it can make in building an emotional connection with them.
3. Take Initiative: - When our gestures of affection are not reciprocated as to our expectation, as human beings we get vulnerable to take it as a personal rejection. Parents also go through the same feelings. While being a parent they need to remember that a lot of time it's not that a child diagnosed with ASD does not want to reciprocate, rather they still don’t have the skills to communicate their desires. By having this awareness, rather than waiting for the child, parents need to take more and more initiatives to communicate and figure out fun activities which can help them connect better with their child. Just being consistent and positive in one initiative can do the trick with your child. Sometimes, doing an activity is also not needed. Just being around the child while he/she is engrossed in of his/her activities also helps. Observing, being curious about the activity, asking very few questions now and then without demanding an answer. Slowly, the child would completely relax in your presence. This gives a message to the child that no matter what, you would be there. “Simply being” with your child is the best way you can develop a connection with your child.
4. Building on child’s interest: - Most parents think that they understand and know their child. In lots of cases, it may be true. However, when a child diagnosed with ASD is concerned, it may be completely different. One of the prominent common features that come with ASD is that the child would have a restricted list of activities that he/she would like to do. It is most challenging for them to suddenly change and start doing a new activity that their parents may feel is better for them. The better way to go about is to focus and capitalize on what is your child’s preferences. As parents, if you can figure out and find ways to join your child in their interests, it would really help in connecting better with them. This foundation can also help the parents to calm the child when they are upset and also to help them transition to unfamiliar surroundings and activities.
5. Be a proud parent: - Most people do not under Autism or a child diagnosed with ASD. They have preconceived notions and judgments readily available which are mostly negative in nature. Parents of children diagnosed with ASD especially are subjected to these adverse opinions. It’s a hard reality that your child may or may not become an achiever in the orthodox term of our world. Nevertheless, each child is unique and special. If your child gets the right intervention and as parents, you are able to tap on their strengths, you can be surprised how much potential your child could have. Therefore, focus on your child. Build parameters understanding your child rather than comparing to the standard benchmarks made by society. How you feel towards your child is as important as what you say to your child. Sensitivity is both a strength and weakness of a child diagnosed with ASD. Therefore, if you feel negative about his/her diagnosis, he/she may very well feel it. This would definitely affect the child's overall development. Yes, it is going to be a long journey. Yes, it may be difficult, especially in the initial phase. However, with a change of approach and better understanding this journey can be made into fun and pleasant.
Written By: -
Isha Singh - Clinical Psychologist
Director - Clinical Services, Ananya Child Development Centre.