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  • Writer's pictureHannah's Hope

Tips and Tricks.

Autism Spectrum News (ASN) is a branch of Mental Health Education, a non-profit organization, that serves the autism community, specifically, through their online publication. The information they provide to this community is trustworthy and helpful for those who may have questions, concerns, or are just looking for a boost as they walk this difficult journey with their families. Everything they publish is written by professionals in the field, family members of autistic individuals or autistic adults. Heidi Hillman, a psychologist who studies autism in her research endeavors as well as works with parents of autistic children regularly, wrote an article for ASN titled, "11 Compassionate Parenting Tips for Families with Autistic Children" in which she provides some information about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as well as encouragement for parents. Becoming a parent is challenging because of all of the new responsibilities, feelings, laundry (insert all of the challenges here) that you will have to juggle. But as the number of children who are diagnosed with autism continues to increase, it also needs to be recognized that those parents face another load of "difficulties" on top of those that come with being a parent to a neurotypical child. As that reality becomes more and more prevalent for a lot of parents, one of the best time to support them is at the time of that initial diagnosis. Parents will begin researching and searching the internet for answers to the overwhelming question of "What do we do?" While their child may need new programs, intervention services, or therapies that support them, what parents need to focus on in these first moments is that no child, especially their own, is in need of a perfect parent, they simply need one that is positive and accepting. In writing this article Hillman aimed to provide some gentle encouragement to parents who are struggling with the weight of the decisions they are going to need to make during these first crucial moments of initial diagnosis..before the panic ensues, remember these eleven tips. First, allow the feelings and emotions. Give yourself however much time and space that you need to wrap your mind around the challenges ahead. You may go through several stages of grief and feel some sense of mourning for what you through your family would look like, and that's okay. Allow those moments to run their course and then you can focus on a plan of action, but only when you're ready. Next, realize you are good enough. Hillman points out that parenting an autistic child is like learning a foreign language in parenting. It can be extremely difficult and overwhelming. Parents can use countless resources to help them navigate their child's diagnosis as well as give them the tools they need to grow and thrive, however, that feeling of worrying that they are not doing enough or they are not good enough may always linger. It is crucial that any parent who is feeling these things remembers that their child does not need them to be perfect, they just need to feel accepted, supported and love. While this may always feel like an uphill battle, every challenge ultimately makes us stronger in the end. The next tip is to build your support village. With accepting and learning about autism, the amount of information to sift through can feel extremely daunting and it could leave parents feeling lonely and lost. This is where other parents who have walked this road will be the most helpful. Truthfully, parents may learn more from each other in these situations than they could from an "autism expert" because those other families get it...they know it all firsthand. If those feelings of isolation and overwhelm begin to set in, remember that you are not alone in this journey and there are other people who know these struggles and can help you through them. The next tip is to remember that your child's differences are what make them unique and just because they may interpret the world differently than you do, it's not a bad thing. Really, their interpretation and perspective of the world is truly amazing. They may even begin to show you that there are new and different ways to solve problems that your neurotypical brain would not have thought of. Another important thing to remember is that although autism is in your child, it does not define your child. Your child is different and special in their own way and they can't, nor should they, be defined by a single diagnosis. The next tip from Hillman is to meet your child where they are developmentally. She includes this note because most, if not all, developmental milestones that we see and hear about are set for neurotypical children who are normally developing. Your child will develop on their time. Try not to focus too intensely on them meeting certain milestones for a given age or assume that they won't do those things because they have surpassed that age already. Meeting or not meeting milestones is not indicative of one child being better or less than another. All that matters is that you celebrate the achievements as they come and you never give up on them in their learning process. Along this same vein, it is important that you remember to focus on the present and unconditional acceptance. These two things are crucial in molding a happy and healthy child. If you focus all of your energy into the goals and achievements of the future, you can lose sight in the beauty of today. Try to view your child through a compassionate lens and they may just surprise you. Understand that for your child, the environment is loud and overwhelming. Immerse yourself in the information that is available on the topic of sensory overload as it affects your child greatly. Sensory sensitivity is something that many autistic children experience and understand that concept will greatly benefit you in understanding your child. Also, recognize that your belief in your child's ability influences their achievement. Believe that they are capable and intelligent and your words and actions will show them that you support them and are behind them every step of the way. One another tip from Hellman is to focus on the positive. We are all a combination of positive traits and flaws, but the key to enjoying our lives is to focus more of our energy on the things that we can do rather than those that we struggle with. Even as adults, comparison is one of the most damaging things we can do when it comes to our overall well-being. The same can be said for children, neurotypical or not. When they, or we, compare them to other children rather than focusing on their positive attributes and the skills they have already mastered, it takes down their confidence and wrongfully encourages them to hyper-fixate on the things that they can't do. Remember this especially when meeting with your child's therapist, teacher and any other professionals that handle their care or learning. Be wary of sitting down with those professionals and listing off each one of your child's flaws as it will essentially just tear down their self-esteem. It is better to focus on their strengths and then work with these caregivers and specialists to modify their challenges by utilizing their strengths. The last tip that Hellman mentions is to keep pushing the boundaries. Staying in the comfort zone is not good, for anyone, and broadening your child's horizons, within limits, is a good thing for you and them. Try different parks, travel on different routes to all your normal places, try new restaurants with the same foods you know your child likes, etc. There are boundaries that your child will express to you if they are feeling uncomfortable or stretched too far they will let you know. You never know what "new" things your child will enjoy until you try. The biggest thing to takeaway from these tips is that although raising an autistic can be challenging, it can also be beautiful and full of joy. Each day will bring something new and each day, you will given the opportunity to pour into your child, show them love and encourage them to push through their discomfort and be who you know they can be. You as well as your child are tough and if you choose to take on this world together, you both will be unstoppable in what you can do and learn.

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