If you are thinking my child has autism, how can I help them? Then don’t worry there is plenty of support available for you but you will also need to be emotionally strong. No-one is ever prepared for an autism diagnosis, and hearing one can be distressing for both you and your child. You may be wondering how best to help your child, or which treatment advice you take, or you may feel like nothing you can do will ever make a difference. While it is true that autism is a lifelong condition that your child will not ‘grow out of’ there are steps you can take to help your child achieve new skills and overcome developmental challenges. The best thing you can do if you suspect your child has autism is to get them to the Doctor as soon as possible, as the earlier you can get them diagnosed and start treatment, the better. There are things that you can do straightaway to help set things off on the right track: Learn as much as possible about autism. The more you know about autism spectrum disorder the better, as you can then make more informed decisions about your child. Educate yourself, ask questions and make sure you are participating in all treatment decisions. Become the expert on your child. Closely monitor your child and get to know what triggers their different behaviours, such as what frightens them, what stresses them out, what calms them and so on. The better you understand your child, the better you will be at trouble shooting problems and preventing situations that might set them off. Accept your child as they are. Instead of comparing your child to other children and noticing what their differences are, enjoy these differences and celebrate small successes. This is a great way to help your child to feel secure and loved. Never give up. It can be challenging living with an autistic child, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it will always be like this. People with autism grow and develop just like everyone else. Learning all you can about your child and getting involved in their treatment as much as you can is a great way to help them to thrive. You can also use the following tips to help give them structure and support: Children who have been diagnosed with autism often have difficulty in applying what they have learnt in one setting to another – for example, they may learn sign language to use at school while in their speech therapists office that they don’t think to use at home. The best way to reinforce learning is to create consistency in their environment by practicing the techniques they are using in other places at home. Perhaps talk to their therapist about doing some sessions in your home as well as their office to make it easier for your child to transfer the learning from one place to another. Stick to a schedule. As well as being consistent, sticking to a schedule is also a great way to encourage your child to thrive. Setting a schedule with mealtimes, therapy sessions, school and bedtime clearly laid out can give your autistic child their consistency they need. Reward good behaviour. Positive reinforcement works on all children, especially those with autism. If they learn a new skill or act appropriately in a situation that they normally find challenging, then make sure you reward them by letting them play with a toy or giving them a sticker Create a safety zone. Give your child a space in your home that they can call their own, relax, and feel secure and safe. Visual clues can be helpful for them, such as labelling areas with pictures. Another way to help your child to thrive is communicating with them regularly, but this can be hard to do with an autistic child, especially a nonverbal one. Communication is not just about speech though, it can also be about your body language, your tone of voice and the way you look at your child. Your child can communicate with you through these things on a daily basis as long as you learn that this is what they are doing. Look for their non-verbal clues. Pay attention to the sounds they are making, the gestures they are using and any facial expressions that you pick up on which indicate that they are tired, hungry or want something. The more observant you are, the more you will pick up on the non-verbal clues they are using to communicate Concentrate on their motivation. If a non-verbal child misbehaves it is usually because their want or need has not been fulfilled. If you can figure out what non-verbal clue you missed you can work out why they feel frustrated and ignored, and perhaps prevent it from happening again. Sometimes using communication apps for nonverbal children can also help. Have fun with your child. At the end of the day, your autistic child is still a child so you should spend some time having fun together, encouraging them to smile and laugh and come out of their shell. Play is also an essential part of learning for children, and so it should feel unpressured and just focused on enjoyment. All of the information you are gathering on your child, helping to understand them and how the autism affects them can be used to fuel your treatment plan. Every person on the autism spectrum is unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and so there is no one size fits all plan either. The best treatment plan for your child will focus on actively engaging your child in structured activities, building on your child’s interests, providing regular reinforcement of their behaviour, offering them a predictable schedule, teaching them tasks as a series of simple steps and definitely your involvement as much as possible. Caring for a child who has autism can be demanding – both on your time and your energy. There will be days where you feel stressed and overwhelmed, as do most parents sometimes. Don’t try to do everything yourself as this will only make things harder – get help. There are lots of places you can turn to for support Support Groups. There are lots of support groups all over the country, where you can get together with other families who are experiencing exactly the same things that you are. You can share information, get advice and also offer and receive emotional support as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for counselling – either for yourself, you and your partner, or as a family. It can really help to sit down with someone outside of the situation and talk honestly about how you are feeling. Respite Care. There are going to be times where you just need a break and respite care can offer you this. It could just be for a few hours, a couple of days, or even a week if you need. App2Vox is one of the leading aac software providers on the market right now, working in partnership with Autism Together to offer families of those with autism access to an affordable app which will help them to communicate with those around them more easil.