Tuesday, June 25, 2024

How To React To An Autistic Child

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My Autistic Child Has Feelings


A common challenge children on the Autism Spectrum and their parents face is the assumption that because an autistic child cannot verbalize or express their feelings like a neurotypical child might, those feelings must not exist. But nothing could be further from the truth. As one parent bluntly describes, Even children who dont speak can still hear you. Dont talk to me over my children like they arent there, especially if youre going to sympathetically tell me what a saint I am for dealing with a horrible situation every day. Im not a saint. Im their mother. And she HEARS YOU and understands that youre saying shes a burden to me.

Talk About What They Want To Talk About

One approach that will never get you far with an autistic kid is to try to force the conversation in a direction you want it to go. At best youll get ignored at worst, theyll shut down or have an outburst.

Obsessions are part of the syndrome and an obsession means a lot of discussion about one particular thing. You might find it boring or simple but youll find far more engagement by sticking to the topic that the child wants to discuss.

Terminology: Autistic With Autism And Aspergers

People use different language when talking about autism. Some prefer to say a child with autism because it emphasizes the childs identity outside of their diagnosis. This is commonly called person-first language and is often recommended as a respectful way to talk about disabilities and other health issues.

However, other people, including many autism activists, prefer to use the term autistic.

This is known as identity-first language. Autistic self-advocates assert that being autistic is in fact part of who they are just like other labels like Catholic, African-American, gifted, and so on. They argue that saying with autism implies that autism is a negative thing that has happened to a person, rather than an integral part of their identity.

In this guide we use both autistic and with autism to acknowledge the diversity of peoples opinions.

Some people also refer to their child having Aspergers disorder. That diagnosis is technically outdated, because in 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders combined Aspergers disorder into autism spectrum disorder. However, many people do continue to use the term Aspergers to describe autistic children who are typically without language or intellectual impairment.

Also Check: Can Autism Be Passed Down

Tell The Child Specifically What You Expect And Allow Him To Earn Privileges For Complying With Your Expectations

For instance, if your child often has a tantrum in a store when he cant go to the toy aisle, tell him exactly what you expect of him before you go to the store and reward him with a privilege for following that expectation. For instance, you can say something like We are going to Target. We are going to the school supply aisle to buy paper and pens, and then we will pay and go home. Once in the store you can give reminders .

Let the child know that he can earn a privilege for following the rules. Privilege ideas include getting a sticker of a favorite character, playing a favorite game once at home, watching a favorite show, going on the computer, staying up ten minutes past bed time, etc. Try to think of a privilege that your child might like or ask him what he would like to work towards.

When the child earns the privilege, praise him with specific language. In the example above you could say, You followed the rules at the Target. We got the paper and pens, paid, and came home. Nice work! Now you can enjoy some computer time. Make sure the privilege is something the child wants. You can let the child choose what he would like to work for ahead of time. Children also benefit from nonverbal praise such as high fives, smiles, thumbs up, etc.

Also Check: Average Life Expectancy Of Someone With Autism

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Talking About Your Child With Autism

Just a kid.

Say hi. Dont just ignore a child with autism, even if they are nonverbal, or dont reciprocate. It may take many more times before they learn to reciprocate. Using social greetings appropriately and at the right time is a skill set, and it may take them longer to gain those skills. Try not to give up too soon.

Talk to them. It may be more difficult to process information, and short and simple phrasing may be better, but continue to make the effort to talk to a child with autism so that they hear and see language in action.

Talk with your hands. Some children who struggle with verbal communication use formal sign language to bridge the gap while they are learning to talk. But beyond that, and for all individuals with and without autism, visual supports and gestures can be used help to clarify verbal information. We all use our hands to gesture when we give directions or describe something, to support our words, and these additional visual cues can help.

Use correct grammar. A child with autism who struggles with language still benefits from hearing many models of correct grammar and language sequencing. In fact, some may demonstrate relative strengths in imitation of your phrases and sentences, and so it is best if they are simple but intact grammatical utterances.

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What Should I Do If My Child With Autism Hits Me

If youre here, you likely need answers regarding your childs aggressive behavior. Before we dive into our tips for how to stop an autistic child from hitting, you must understand why this occurs in the first place.

Unable to express their thoughts or feelings in words, children with autism may lash out and hit, scratch, or bite their parents or siblings. Hitting can range from an open-handed slap to a closed-fisted punch, and some outbursts may even injure themselves or others.

Many things can trigger aggressive behaviors like hitting, scratching, and biting, but these are some of the most common in children with autism:

  • Feeling very anxious or stressed
  • Trying to communicate
  • Sensory overload or sensitivity
  • Not understanding whats going on around them.

Once we understand why children with autism behave this way, we can work toward prevention and treatment. First, we need to discuss appropriate ways of dealing with aggressive and violent behaviors in children with autism.

Recommended Reading: Is The Good Doctor Actor Really Autistic

Break Out Your Sensory Toolkit

Keep a few sensory tools or toys in your car or bag. You can offer these to your kid when their mind is overwhelmed.

Kids have different favorites, but some common sensory tools include weighted lap pads, noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, and fidget toys.

Dont force these on your child when theyre melting down, but if they choose to use them, these products can often help them calm down.

Dont Stop Trying To Include Us

How To Help Children With Autism Deal And React To Problems

Autistic children, their siblings, and their parents are simply people, and people like to feel as if they are a part of a community. Though spending the day with a child on the Autism Spectrum may come with a few additional challenges, continue to spend time with them. Ask families to come to the Sunday BBQ, ask questions to better understand, and invite the parents out for dinner and an evening away. If they say no, ask again next time.

Recommended Reading: Is It Possible To Outgrow Autism

We Know Best When It Comes To Our Autistic Children

All parents know their own children best, but this statement is especially true of parents of children on the Autism Spectrum. Most parents of autistic children have spent countless hours researching and consulting with doctors. They know their childrens ticks and the best ways to avoid meltdowns. Autism Speaks advises other parents keep the unsolicited parenting advice to themselves, saying, Do ask the family whether theres something you can do to help, but he prepared for a no.

Also Check: Can Autism Be Outgrown

Dont Treat Them As Less Because They Have Autism

We all have limitations. We are also all capable of many great things. The same holds true for someone with autism. They have strengths and weaknesses just like anyone else.

Some weaknesses may be more pronounced and, as many kiddos on the spectrum dont recognize how social etiquette rules apply, they may be less apt to try and hide what others would consider to be deficiencies.

This does not however, make them less of a person.

Society as a whole is based upon the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals that encompass it.

When you tear someone down, you weaken society. When you build them up you strengthen it.

Autistic people have all of the needs and rights to a fair and equal life as anyone else. Treating them as less, or as if they deserve less is more than just wrong. It devalues them and can ultimately lead to them being the lesser person they are perceived as.

Read Also: Is Level 2 Autism High Functioning

How To Calm A Child With Autism

There are certain calming do’s and don’ts that apply to most children with autism. These are based on the factors that autistic children have in common, specifically:

  • Difficulty with understanding social norms and conventions
  • Difficulty with following or using non-verbal communication
  • Unawareness of others’ likely reactions to behaviors
  • Sensory challenges that can get in the way of positive behaviors
  • Lack of social motivation

Establish The Consequences For Inappropriate Behaviour


A consequence refers to something that happens as a result of a particular behaviour or act. It may be either positive or negative. Consequences are a great accompaniment to rules. If your child breaks a rule, come up with a particular consequence for that behaviour, so they know the consequences that behaviour attracts.

It is best to avoid reducing the amount of time a child with autism spends in his area of interest as it could result in more misbehaviour. Besides, enforce more positive consequences for good behaviour rather than negative consequences for bad behaviour.

Recommended Reading: How To Make A Visual Schedule For Autism

A Temper Tantrum Is Not An Autism Meltdown

A temper tantrum usually occurs when a child is denied what they want to have or what they want to do.

Parents observe many tantrums during the terrible twos. This occurs when young children are developing problem-solving skills and beginning to assert their independence.

In fact, this terrible twos stage is typically experienced between 12 months through 4 years old!

When you look at why temper tantrums occur at this stage, it is important to consider typical development and why toddlers are so easily frustrated:

  • Emerging desire to become independent, but limited motor skills and cognitive skills make it impossible to actually BE independent.
  • Emerging, developing language skills make communicating wants/needs frustrating.
  • The prefrontal cortex of the brain has not yet developed – this is the brain center responsible for emotional regulation and social behavior – so they do not have the ability to regulate!
  • Toddlers are developing an understanding of their world, and its often anxiety-producing. This anxiety and lack of control often result in tantrums when it all gets to be too much to manage.

A hallmark of a tantrum is that the behavior will usually persist if the child gains attention for his behavior, but will subside when ignored.

When parents give in to tantrum outbursts, children are more likely to repeat the behavior the next time they are denied what they want or need.

Autism Meltdown Strategies For Children

Youve heard the saying: When youve met a child with autism, youve met one child with autism.

Because every autistic child presents differently, with varied skills, levels of relatedness, communication, and sensory processing profiles, it is impossible to have a one-solution-fits-all approach to managing meltdowns.

The following are some tips and strategies that have helped other parents, but you will have to consider these in terms of your individual childs needs.

Wed all like to avoid meltdowns completely, but thats not possible. Instead, some parents find it helpful to put strategies in place to minimize the stress and anxiety of daily life that may contribute to a meltdown. This is typically referred to as a sensory diet and can be beneficial in preventing and managing autism meltdowns.

Some common ones that support regulation across the day:

  • Visual schedules
  • Check off lists
  • Activity or task schedules
  • Routine sensory diet activities, for example, using a weighted blanket during sleep, engaging in deep pressure activities at certain times in the daily routine, etc.

Some parents find it helpful to schedule quiet time for their child, in order to allow for the downtime proactively before the activity of the day gets to be too much. Building in a surprise or question mark to visual schedules helps to shape behavioral responses to unexpected changes in routines that are often stressful.

Also Check: Does Gestational Diabetes Cause Autism

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How to Teach Children to Respond to Their Names (Works for Autism)
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  • Recommended Reading: Alex And Ani Autism Speaks

    Everyday And Social Skills For Unfamiliar And Difficult Situations

    Sometimes autistic children and teenagers might seem like theyre behaving inappropriately. But actually they dont have the skills to handle unfamiliar or difficult situations.

    For example, your child doesnt say hello to someone. Your child isnt being rude on purpose they might not know they should say hello. Your child might start hitting something because a particular noise is upsetting them. Or your child might smear poo on the wall because they like the warmth and texture of it, not because they want to upset you or do the wrong thing.

    Strategies like role plays, video modelling and social stories can help autistic children develop social skills. They can also help autistic teenagers develop social skills.

    Breaking tasks into steps can help autistic children and teenagers learn everyday skills like how to get dressed or how to use deodorant.

    Tantrums Meltdowns And Takeaways

    Both tantrums and meltdowns are manifestations of difficulty with emotional regulation skills and if they persist beyond the stages of typical development, can be associated with other diagnoses like ADHD, autism, sensory processing dysfunction, learning disabilities, depression, and anxiety.

    While tantrums are behavioral in nature, meltdowns have a sensory, physiological basis that warrants different management strategies. While neither are fun outbursts to experience, focus part of your energy on proactively supporting your childs emotional regulation.

    In the moments of tantrum or meltdown, use the guidelines weve outlined above to find what works for your child, and please share with Harkla what management strategies work for you!


    Autistic Meltdown or Temper Tantrum? by Judy Endow, MSW.” Ollibean. N.p., 10 Nov. 2016. Web. 25 May 2017.

    26 Sensory Integration Tools for Meltdown Management – Friendship Circle – Special Needs Blog.” Friendship Circle — Special Needs Blog. N.p., 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 May 2017.

    Bennett, David D. “Decreasing Tantrum/meltdown Behaviors of School Children with High Functioning Autism through Parent Training.” Social Science. N.p., 04 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 May 2017.

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    Top 10 Ways Of Dealing With Autistic Children

    Dealing with autistic children is very difficult. Many parents prefer to pacify them rather than discipline them as they feel sorry that these children are unable to realize what they are doing.

    The question that arises in our minds is whether autistic children can be treated the same way as normal children?

    How to deal with autistic children?

  • Many feel that autistic children cannot understand what they are actually doing and feel they are difficult to be controlled and disciplined. Parents show pity on them and do not check their behavior. But this is not true as the most challenged person can also learn appropriate behavior if disciplined according to the requirements of the child.
  • Certain positive behavior patterns and actions can change the response of the autistic child. If the interactions are appropriate and he or she is able to build up a rapport, the autistic child can respond to what the other person is saying. In other words a person can discipline him well if he communicates well.
  • Parents must not be afraid to discipline an autistic child. They feel their behavior is due to their disability and not due to their own volition. This is not so, as an autistic child can also be told what he or she should do or not do.
  • One must not take out ones frustrations on an autistic child. One generally tends to if one is tired after a hard days work. The best thing to do is to relax when the autistic child is napping.
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