When You Suspect A Parent May Be On The Autism Spectrum
There is a great deal of literature and support available for parents of children with the traits or diagnosis of autism spectrum . I write often about relationships in which this describes one partner, and there are books available in support of such couples. But what if you suspect one of your parents may be on the spectrum? There are meager resources available which specifically address such concerns.
Perhaps you have children of your own now and one of them seems autistic, prompting you to look at your family of origin with new perspective. Its also possible you discovered that you are autistic yourself. Or you have read enough about autism that it suddenly dawned on you that ASD might explain the challenges you have always had with a parentchallenges that have, up until now, baffled you. For the sake of this article, lets say it is your father you are concerned about.
It can be sobering to think these thoughts after all these years. It can be frightening. You may wonder whether you even have the right to consider such a thing with regard to your own father, who otherwise seems to have a successful life and a mature career. In fact, this is one of the things that has never squared with you: your father has always seemed to be a different person to you than to the rest of the world. All these years, you thought the root of the problem resided within you. Now you are beginning to wonder.
Discussing Concerns With Family Members
I am concerned that my young grandson may have signs of autism, but I am uncomfortable bringing this up with my son and daughter-in-law. Do you have any suggestions about how best to approach them?Answered by Peggy Halliday, MEd, BCBA and David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-DAssociation for Science in Autism Treatment
We appreciate your question as this comes up often. It is natural to be unsure of how to share your concerns with your grandsons parents. As is the case with many concerned family members, you may worry that such a discussion will not be well received. You may fear that it can cause some discomfort or tension in your relationship. However, if an autism diagnosis is a possibility, you would not want to delay screening which could result in a referral for an evaluation and services. Waiting may waste valuable time during which intervention can be most beneficial for your grandson. Even knowing that better outcomes can come from early diagnosis and intensive intervention, it still may be difficult to talk to your son and daughter-in-law if they have not expressed their concerns to you directly.
We would like to offer some concrete suggestions that may increase the likelihood that your discussion will be positive and constructive.
Having the Conversation
Talk With Other Parents
Parents making sense of a new diagnosis can sometimes feel overwhelmed and alone. Dr. Silverman says that one of the most important things, besides getting good treatment, is spending time with other special needs parents. Being in the company of other parents can make you feel strong rather than alone and isolated. Its important to have people who get it, she says. They can say, Someone said that to me too, and its so frustrating because thats not the way it is.
Your childs doctor might be able to recommend a local support group, or you could look online or network with other parents at special needs sports or activity groups.
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When You Change Your Expectations The World Will Grow
I wish we knew that autism just means different, not less. Instead of baseball games in elementary school we would have sensory integration programs. I wish we knew then that it will be OK some days will be hard, some days will be beautiful and at the end of each of them when we tuck our son into bed, the most important thing we can do is make sure he knows he is loved.
Tabatha and Tony Rainwater, Knoxville, Tennessee
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Where Can I Get More Information And Support
- The National Autistic Society has lots of practical information, including a helpline which provides advice and support, plus local groups where you can meet other parents of children with autism near you.
- You can find out about treatments and the evidence behind them, from Research Autism.
- Find independent, local advice and support through the Information, Advice & Support Services Network
- You can also talk to other parents of children with ASD in the BabyCentre community.
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Getting Started: Introducing Your Child To His Or Her Diagnosis Of Autism
Marci Wheeler, MSW
Many parents are fearful that labeling their child as having an autism spectrum disorder will make him or her feel broken, or that they may use their label as an excuse to give up and not try. Adults on the autism spectrum have found the opposite to be true. Giving your child information on the nature of his/her differences will give them a better understanding and the motivation that is needed to drive through challenges.
Discussing an autism spectrum diagnosis with your child is an important issue and one for which many parents seek advice. This article will focus on aspects of explaining your childs diagnosis to him or her, and provide resources that can assist and guide you.
What Are The Next Steps
Signs of autism are usually evident by 4 years old. If youve noticed signs of autism in your child, its important to talk with their doctor to get them screened as soon as possible.
You can start by going to their pediatrician to explain your concerns. The pediatrician can give you a referral to a specialist in your area.
Specialists who can diagnose autism in children include:
- developmental pediatricians
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He Lacks Social Skills
When people are on the autism spectrum, they have many challenges when it comes to social situations. They may avoid eye contact, talk about inappropriate topics, and have difficulty understanding the gestures, body language, and facial expressions of others.
People with ASD may avoid group events as much as possible because they have trouble making small talk and not knowing when people are teasing.
Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD said in an American Psychological Association podcast,
“I think difficulty with conversational skills, for example, makes it very, very difficult to develop meaningful and close relationships with people, whether they be friendships or romantic relationships. And difficulty picking up on social cues and understanding the perspectives of others, knowing how someone might actually react to something that we say or something we do. That sort of difficulty makes it really challenging for people with autism to develop these relationships.”
Social Signs Of Autism In Children
One of the biggest autism stereotypes is that were anti-social. But what in the world does that even mean?
A lot of autistics I know are very social, we just tend to socialize differently than neurotypical people do.
There are definitely some social signs of autism in children that parents can watch for, so Ive outlined a few of them below.
First, autistic children may struggle to relate to people outside of their close family.
It takes us a while to connect with new people, so were often most ourselves with close family.
Autistic children also may not play with other children as you might typically expect.
Autistics tend to prefer parallel play where they play near other children without directly interacting.
Your child may also seem like they are in their own world a lot of the time.
Maybe they dont respond when called or seem to zone out.
One of the biggest signs for my son, A-Man, was that he played with the exact same toys in the exact same way every time.
He liked his routine and playing in a way he knew that he enjoyed helped him to feel safe and in control.
You may also notice that your child prefers to play alone, rather than with peers.
Autistic children tend to be very specific in their play, and adding in other children adds a lot of uncontrollable variables.
Which brings me to my final social sign of autism
Autistic children may have extremely strict rules to follow during play.
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Give The Parents Some Time Off
Offer to spend time with the children or provide the financial means to have the parents have time on their own. Dont wait to be asked. Your childs marriage and mental health need as much attention as does your grandchild. It is an investment for the whole family when you provide the regular opportunity for relief.
- Gift certificates for movies, dinner, spa, and fitness clubs are a way to force a parent to take time for him or her self. Most parents will never quite get around to taking care of themselves. A homemade meal or a house cleaning can go a long way to easing stress. Take care of your child so they can care for your grandchild.
He May Become Distant
People with autism sometimes need a break from constantly being “on” around you. They also won’t want you to see these breaks and so they may become distant and spend time away from you randomly.
It’s not your fault. It’s just something that he has to do.
Intuitive Facilitator Joseph Stasaitis says, “I have found autistic folks to be quite empathetic. They may not express or exhibit their emotions freely, but this can be misinterpreted as not caring. The autistic person may then very well withdraw to keep safe. Although craving love and intimacy they tend to lack the ability to pick up on social cues.”
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What Are Some Possible Signs Of Mild Autism
ASD encompasses a broad range of behavioral patterns and experiences.
Inconsistency from one ASD case to the next can make it more difficult for caregivers to fully connect the dots.
Even so, there are many common behaviors that could point to a possible ASD diagnosis. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , these may include:
Some children with ASD may appear to have a learning disability or other form of behavior disorder. They may also have co-occurring medical challenges, such as gastrointestinal discomfort, trouble sleeping, or seizures. Many individuals with autism may also have mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or an attention deficit disorder.
Repetitive Or Restrictive Behaviors
An autistic child who has adopted certain repetitive or restrictive behaviors may exhibit some of these signs:
- performs repetitive motions, such as flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or spinning
- persistently or repeatedly lines up toys or other objects in an organized fashion
- gets upset or frustrated by small changes in their daily routine
- has to follow certain routines
- plays with toys the same way every time
- likes certain parts of objects
- has obsessive interests
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Find Other Parents Who Will Understand And Support You
“It always has been invaluable to have other parents who are going through the same thing as you are, to call them up and say I cant believe this is happening to me today. Because to the rest of the community, the things that happen to us, theyre really not the norm.”
Ruth Singer Strunck, the mom of two young adults with autism
What Should You Do If You Think Your Teenager Is Autistic
Autism isnt curable. Its a part of your teens personality and selfhood.
Help your teen understand who they are and learn to love and accept themselves, especially if theyre worried about not fitting in.
- monitoring your teens development against a checklist of common developmental milestones
- performing an in-depth behavioral evaluation
- figuring out what resources may allow your teen to overcome challenges in adapting to neurotypical norms and becoming self-sufficient
Just like the signs of autism differ for everyone, the outcomes for autistic people will look different for each individual.
The first thing to understand is that your teen isnt impaired or deficient.
But they may need access to resources that can help them overcome challenges in adapting to neurotypical norms, depending on whether their ASD has been diagnosed as mild or severe.
Heres what you can do to make your teen feel loved and accepted by you and those around you, as well as how to help them love and accept themselves.
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Dont Use Creative Language
Autistic children take things literally. If you sprinkle your conversation with irony, sarcasm, exaggerations, or idioms, youre bound to confuse the child.
For example, dont tell a child to keep an eye on something. The child may reach for it and put the item near his face.
Be as literal and direct as you can, so the child knows exactly what youre talking about.
If you slip and say something unusual, dont laugh at the child for taking your words literally. Apologize for your mistake, and rephrase the sentence so your meaning is clear.
When It Comes To Autism One Size Doesnt Fit All
If you put a PlayStation game into an Xbox, would it work? Of course not. So does that mean the Xbox is broken? No. The same thing applies for a child with autism. Just because they dont learn the way typical children do doesnt mean there is something wrong with them. It means that we as parents, caregivers, friends, neighbors and teachers need to find different ways to try and make a connection.
Laura Jones, Lambertville, New Jersey
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Dont Take Things Personally
Children with autism may not respond in a manner you understand or expect. They may walk away from you, ignore you, or have a meltdown.
Its easy to have hurt feelings, but do your best to keep your emotions in check. The child may be working hard to adjust to your expectations and your reality. Be as flexible as you can, and keep trying to form that connection.
Interacting With A Child Who Has Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder. It affects how children interact and communicate with others. The disorder is called a spectrum disorder because children can be anywhere on the autism spectrum.
Children with ASD start to show symptoms at an early age. The symptoms continue during childhood and adulthood. Healthcare providers dont know why some children develop ASD. It may be a combination of genes they are born with and something in their environment that triggers those genes.
Children with ASD have trouble relating to other people. They have trouble making eye contact. They often withdraw into themselves. They may seem uninterested in relating to family members.
But some children with ASD may love to keep talking with family members, friends, and even strangers about a topic they are obsessed with. The problem is that they may talk about it too long. Or they may talk only about that one subject. This can push other people away.
If you are a parent or grandparent of a child with ASD, it can be heartbreaking if you feel like you just can’t connect with him or her. But learning more about these disorders and what has helped others can help you and your relationship.
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Tips For Grandparents Of Autistic Children
Even though I havent crossed the threshold from parent to grandparent, Ive heard its one of the most rewarding roles in a persons life. But if you are the grandparent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, your role, although equally rewarding, comes with a unique set of challenges. Challenges that you probably havent experienced. You may find yourself questioning your ability to offer the best of support to your son or daughter as they navigate raising an autistic child. You may worry about your relationship with your autistic grandchild. Perhaps your grandchild hasnt been diagnosed, but you have suspicions and dont know how to approach your son or daughter about them. All of these are valid concerns. After my son was diagnosed with autism, I shifted my career toward supporting other families like my own. Often its concerned grandparents like you. But if you incorporate the following tips, Im confident you will be not only the grandparent your grandchild needs, but also the parent your child needs.
He Has Unusual Physical Behaviors
Some of the classic indicators of ASD are repetitive speech, physical tics, and looking anywhere else besides a person’s eyes when speaking with them. People on the spectrum may exhibit unusual behavior due to difficulties they have in responding to their environment.
Behaviors may include unusually tense or focused interests, stereotyped and repetitive body movements such as hand flapping and spinning, repetitive use of objects such as flipping lights on and off, insistence on sticking to routines, unusual sensory interests such as sniffing objects, and sensory sensitivities including avoidance of everyday sounds.
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