In recent years, mental health professionals have made great strides in understanding and treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. Because the autism spectrum encompasses a wide variety of symptoms and personal qualities, however, the experience of parents and teachers in helping a child with ASD to flourish can involve many unique challenges.
Despite these difficulties, many individuals find that helping an autistic child can be a life-changing and deeply meaningful process. There are many effective ways to help kids with autism; here are just a few ideas to help a child with ASD learn new social and personal skills, and why doing so can be immensely rewarding experience for everyone involved.
- Create a Structured Schedule
As many parents and teachers of children with ASD will tell you, children with autism tend to think in a very “rigid” terms about the world around them, and they may become distressed when their environment appears to lack order or emotional regulation. This kind of distress commonly leads to tantrums and even aggressive behaviors on the part of the child.
By maintaining healthy boundaries and creating set times for waking, eating meals, activities, and going to bed, however, parents can truly help their child feel safe. That kind of emotional security can make a big difference in a child’s worldview and behavior.
- Provide a Soothing Environment
For children with autism, loud sounds and bright lights can often elicit feelings of sensory overload. Children with autism tend to have a remarkable ability to focus their attention on various situations and subjects, but this same ability can also cause them to feel easily overwhelmed by stimuli within their environment.
Indeed, simple changes to the ambiance of a household or classroom such as the introduction of soft lighting, calming color schemes, and set times for quiet play can do much to help a child with ASD feel secure and calm.
- Learn More About a Special Interest
For many children with autism, the development of a special interest about a particular topic can be an extremely common occurrence, and parents and teachers can do much to help a child with ASD by encouraging and supporting their fascination with these special subjects.
For example, a child with ASD may show an exceptional interest in concepts related to computers, airplanes, dinosaurs, or music. By providing toys, books, or activities on these subjects, parents and teachers can do much to create a deeply supportive and engaging environment for a child with autism.
- Communicate During Activities
Parents and teachers of children with ASD will often find it difficult to gain the child’s full attention during activities or play; during this time, a child may appear distracted or even unresponsive to what others are saying or doing. By engaging with their child’s interests, however, parents can facilitate and reinforce two-way communication to a remarkable degree.
Even small, shared activities such as holding up a favorite toy or book and passing it back and forth can significantly help redirect a child’s attention towards other people. Singing favorite songs together can also help a child with ASD learn more about the importance of social interaction.
- Reinforce Joint Attention
Because children with autism tend to focus on their own thoughts and reactions to stimuli rather than on the actions of others, it can sometimes be difficult for parents and teachers to feel as though they’re “getting through” to a child with ASD.
At such times, the ability to socially interact with a child may break down. These scenarios can be frustrating for parents and teachers because they lack what is called “joint attention” on the part of the child.
Joint attention refers to the tacit or verbal communication that occurs between individuals when they are focused on a particular activity or object. For example, a parent and a child who are communicating while focusing on a toy or game would be said to be demonstrating joint attention.
In recent years, virtual reality has been shown to be a particularly effective tool for reinforcing joint attention skills in children with ASD. Because a parent or teacher can view the same “object” or scenario as a child in real time via virtual imaging and technology, virtual reality can provide a fun and engaging way for children with autism to learn about the importance of shared communication.
While virtual reality autism treatment is still an emerging field, it appears to hold much potential for giving children with ASD the chance to truly connect with others and build new social skills.
Helping a child with autism isn’t always easy, but the truth is that assisting a child with ASD to reach their full potential can be a deeply rewarding and meaningful experience for everyone involved. Truly, that is life at its best!