Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to have repetitive behaviors. Developing a natural rhythm and routine in their day can help them to feel safe and secure in their environment.
Knowing what to expect from the day ahead can alleviate some of the stress of an already overstimulating world. Today we are sharing some ideas to promote independence in your child.
Help Your Child Create A Self Care Routine
Teaching kids to take care of their hygiene is a key life skill for them to develop that fosters independence.
Of course, there are a wide range of abilities for children on the autism spectrum. One child may be ready to start learning hygiene skills at a very early age, where as another child may not be ready until they are much older.
Starting as young as possible for each individual will promote independence and help them to establish a daily routine and schedule that will help them thrive.
Teaching basic skills like how to wash their hands, or how to comb their hair, or brush their teeth are all great places to start.
You can start by modeling the action. You can have them stand at the sink to wash their hands and break it into easy steps while miming the action next to them. First turn on the water, next put the soap on your hands, then rub your hands, then rinse, etc…
Practicing on a daily basis will help them to eventually master the skill and then you can move on to the next skill.
Let Them Choose a New Chore To Master
Getting kids involved in caring for their space is always a good idea. It promotes self-confidence and self-esteem.
Depending on their age and ability, the chores they will be able to learn to perform could range from moving a dust rag around on a table or wood door, to more complex chores like washing a floor, or folding towels.
Breaking a chore down into small, manageable steps will help them become a master of their new endeavor.
For example, if they want to learn how to fold a towel:
Step 1: Lay the towel flat on the table
Step 2: Fold the towel in half
Step 3: Fold the towel in half again
Your towel if folded!
Of course, there are a ton of ways to fold a towel, so the first decision you have to make before you teach a new chore, is what is the simplest way to achieve this chore? Should I teach them to roll the towel? Which direction should I teach them to fold it?
No matter what your decision is, be consistent and every time you practice the chore do it the same exact way or, if they’re able, let them decide which way they want to fold the towels.
You could take a picture of each step and create a little chart of how to do any specific chore for them to refer to.
Once they’ve mastered a chore, they can choose a new chore they’d like to attempt. Make it fun!
Have Them Help Prepare Their Meals
Mealtime happens every day. What a great opportunity to encourage kids to help prepare their food. Again, the varying degrees of teaching meal prep skills will vary widely.
Maybe they choose which apple they’d like to eat from the bowl. Perhaps they use a wooden spoon to mix the cupcake batter, or maybe they are ready to prepare something using the microwave?
No matter what it is, getting them involved in meal prep even in a small way will help in working towards the goal of them gaining independence.
Let Them Do The Shopping
Having kids help with the shopping can be a super rewarding experience for them. As with all the items on this list, the degree which they will be able to help will depend on each individuals needs, age, and ability.
You could begin with one simple shopping task, like having them pick out the bananas. Maybe that is their contribution at the market every Monday? Letting them do the same part of the shopping trip will build confidence in their shopping abilities and if you can do it on the same day every week, it gives them something to look forward to.
Start small and add on to their responsibility over time. Maybe they are ready to help put groceries on the belt? Maybe they can find the vegetables you buy every week? Or, maybe they get to pick out the cereal every week?
For older, higher functioning kids, a super independent task is letting them go into a shop and purchase something for themselves.
Around age 11, I started letting my boy go into our neighborhood bakery once a week to purchase his pizza strip for his lunch box.
I was able to conveniently park right alongside the building, that way I didn’t have to worry about him crossing any roads so it wasn’t a safety issue.
The glow on his face after doing this for the first time was priceless and all I needed to see to know, this was something that gave him a great sense of pride and independence.
It’s been two years since he first walked into that bakery alone, and he still goes in once a week—and he still feels proud every time.
Let Them Make Their Own Choices
There are multiple ways to get to where we’re going. Giving kids choices empowers them and gives them the sense that they have control in their life.
This can be as simple as holding two different snacks and having them choose which they’d like. For older kids and teens, it can be bigger decisions, like, what kind of skills are they interested in learning? Maybe they want to learn how to paint, or learn an exercise routine?
For a child with ASD, being able to make choices makes them feel powerful and will boost confidence in themselves. Finding ways to offer choices as early on as possible will not only promote independence, it will empower them and give them a sense of satisfaction--something we all desire.
Books are a critical part of every young child’s development. You probably remember certain books you had as a child that taught you about animals, shapes, colors, numbers and more.
For children with autism, books are a great sensory toy that can help them recognize emotions, understand social cues, and receive valuable sensory input.
We’ve gathered a short list of our favorite interactive, sensory, or counting books to help your child’s development in a fun and stimulating way.
Point to Happy
Never Touch a Monster
Touch! My Big Touch-and-Feel Word Book
The Ocean (Touch and Explore)
Dog’s Colorful Day
The Three Little Pigs: A Nosy Crow Fairy Tale
Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure
Enjoy the Best Books to Touch, Learn, and PlaY
For children with autism, books are a great way to combine playtime with critical development of knowledge and skills. These books provide a stimulating visual, or sometimes tactile, sensory experience while teaching them about emotions, social cues, counting and numbers, and more.
This list includes our favorite interactive, sensory, and counting books for young children with autism. If you purchase one of these books, let us know what you thought!
Long hair can be a problem. Food could get in it, your child could bite it or try to chew on it, or it could be constantly dirty and difficult to keep clean.
Eventually, your child on the spectrum will need a haircut! This can be a major challenge for parents. All of the different sounds and sensations that come along with getting your haircut can be a complete sensory overload. Here are tips to help make this a smooth process!
1. Don’t surprise your child. Allow them to plan ahead and prepare for the haircut beforehand. Include a social story to explain what happens when you do go to get the haircut so there are no big unexpected events. Reminders about the haircut on the days leading up to it can help them be more at ease.
2. Often times, a child on the spectrum will be extremely sensitive to certain noises and sensations, especially around the ears. Introduce them to hair clippers and the sounds they make. Desensitize your child to the vibrations and sounds of the clippers. When you arrive at the Salon, the tools being used will already be familiar. Use ear plugs to block out the noise.
3. Bring a preferred item to take the child’s mind off getting a haircut. This could be anything that is reinforcing to them and they play with a lot at home. Some examples are a tablet, animal toys, iPod with favorite songs, fidgets, coloring books, or a small toy train that they love. Pack a bag of possible items they would use as a coping skill or to calm down when feeling scared.
4. Pack your child’s favorite snack (I suggest more than one). A haircut can be a frightening experience for them and at times the sensory overload may become too much. This is when a break involving a snack will come in handy. Explain that “we can take a break now and come back and do more after we have a snack”. Just as adults, children with autism need time to regulate themselves when they become agitated, this break time will provide an opportunity to relax.
5. Use positive reinforcement and reward them for getting a haircut. Remember that this is an overwhelming experience and remind them that they have a treat waiting either at home or in the car when the haircut is done. This could be a new toy, a frappe at McDonald’s, or a trip to play mini golf in the summer. Anything the child will look forward to and ease some of the stress.
6. Find a hairdresser who does home visits. If this is not possible, choose the time and day that you go to the salon wisely. Find out what the quietest times of business are. Less people equals less noise and a calmer environment.
7. Model it! Use a modeling video to show another child getting their haircut. This will give the child an idea of what to expect. Below is a video that can be used for modeling.
You may have heard the term “self-care” floating around lately. So what is it? Self-care is the things you do for the most important person in your life……yourself!
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Your kids, significant other, pets, work are those who receive the most from you. However, in order for all the special people in your life to receive the best care from you, you need to care for yourself. I know, I know how in the world are you supposed to find time for that?
Sometimes, you have to demand that time or be real creative in making time for yourself. Some of us are lucky enough to have extra help at home when you need to just take some space. Other times, we are the only person we have in getting stuff done day after day. Regardless of your situation, it is important to find ways you can cater to your own needs.
My self-care routine usually entails a workout once a week, painting my nails one night a week, and taking an hour each Saturday to go wherever I want to (for example, driving to Target 5 towns away just to take a drive).
Your self-care might involve gardening, lighting candles at night to relax, and enjoying a hike in the woods. This is the most beautiful aspect of self-care, you get to pick what you do for yourself! Self-care also does not mean you have to perform these activities alone. You could take your kids out for ice cream or make time to see a friend you have not had a chance to see very often.
No matter what you decide is best for your situation, it is important to remember one thing. It is not at all selfish to recognize small things you can do for yourself each week in order to perform all the roles you are involved in. Being a parent is the most demanding role of all.
The sacrifices you perform for your children are seen daily. Your children will benefit from seeing you perform self-care for yourself. This can also assist in you teaching your child to recognize what they do for themselves for self-care.
Does serving pizza, processed foods, or chips every day for lunch and dinner sound familiar? Meal time can be an important part of the day for families to talk to each other, relax, and bond. These are the perfect times for modeling proper manners and setting an example of healthy eating. Furthermore, research shows that children who eat dinner with families have a lower chance of engaging in high risk behaviors later on in life. It can be a difficult and anxious time for a child with autism which can create a stressful situation for parents.
When it comes to your child on the spectrum, making sure they get the right nutrition can be a battle. This can be very frustrating for parents and can sometimes leading to giving up or “giving in” and feeding the child only what they prefer. Think back to when you were a kid, did you enjoy eating fruits and vegetables? Most likely your answer is no. One important aspect of this for parents to understand is that this is not your fault, you did not create this problem. In certain cases, this can be very dangerous for the child’s wellbeing. Melissa Olive Ph.D., a psychologist with experience treating eating disorders, says “some of them limit what they eat, in some instances so severely that it results in nutritional deficiencies that lead to weight loss, malnutrition and inadequate growth”.
In the journal article: Food Selectivity in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Typically Developing Children, the study concluded that food selectivity is more common in children with autism than in typically developing children, and limited diet may be associated with nutrient inadequacies. The article states that “children with ASDs exhibited more food refusal than typically developing children. A more limited food repertoire was reported for children with ASDs than typically developing children. Only four children with ASDs and one typically developing child were reported to demonstrate high frequency single food intake. Children with a more limited food repertoire had inadequate intakes of a greater number of nutrients”.
Often times a child’s diet will be diverse until one day they begin to be much pickier and only want to eat a few preferred foods. These foods tend to be unhealthy. This can be related to many different factors. The following is a list of some but not all of the possible reasons:
What Methods Have Professionals Used?
In their book Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Childs Diet Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet, Cheri Fraker, Mark Fishbein MD, Sibyl Cox, and Laura Walbert offer a “common sense approach to dealing with problem eaters”. The authors analyze the different characteristics of the child’s preferred food. These characteristics include textures, flavors, and food groups. The foods that are similar to preferred foods but are also nutritious are then introduced.
An additional approach is the the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) feeding program created by Dr. Kay Toomey. This program “integrates sensory, motor, oral, behavioral/learning, medical and nutritional factors and approaches in order to comprehensively evaluate and manage children with feeding/growth problems. It is based on the normal developmental steps and skills of feeding”.
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