Information on development for parents with a child who has Autism or Aspergers syndrome


Even without an Autism Spectrum Disorder, young people often struggle with the normal challenges of growing up, acquiring complex skills, and learning how to sustain meaningful relationships. Autism Spectrum Disorders such as autism and Asperger's syndrome can increase the difficulty of these normal challenges, both for the child and for the parents. It is essential that children have assistance and support designed to meet each individual’s particular needs.


How do Autism Spectrum Disorders affect development?

A child learns a vast array of skills, each layer of learning building on the one before. Autism Spectrum Disorders disrupt this process to a greater or lesser extent. There are so many things to learn and tasks to accomplish to reach mature adulthood. It’s a challenging journey for any young person, and an Autism Spectrum Disorder makes it harder.

Autism Spectrum Disorders range from very mild to very severe, with everything in between. A mild Autism Spectrum Disorder such as Asperger's syndrome may be harder to detect, but with increasing severity, more areas of life are usually involved and effects are obvious in say a case of profound autism.

Often there’s nothing in a person’s appearance that indicates they are affected by an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The signs will usually be evident in the person’s behavior and communication. All this means that the special needs of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder may not be recognized, and their behavior may be misunderstood by the wider community.


Involving therapists and professional support

The first and essential step is to obtain a clear and accurate assessment of all the young person’s abilities and difficulties. Assessment is the basis for planning a specific program to build on the young person’s strengths and address their particular needs, and set short-term and longer-term goals. This planning and goal-setting should always be a team effort, with the the family involved – a partnership that works to find the best ways of meeting each young person’s needs, and the needs of the family as a whole.

The program needs to be tailored to your child's and your family's priorities and circumstances, to build on your particular strengths and skills. It needs to help minimize developmental delays in your child and foster learning and independence.


Good tips for helping your child

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders need lots of opportunities to practice skills that others learn more easily, and different styles of teaching are usually needed, such as a reliance on visual as well as verbal cues. There is a range of health professionals who can work with the young person and the parents on this journey. It’s also vital to have the involvement and support of the child's teachers and school.

Is your child having trouble learning a task? Break down the skills involved into small components and practice them with your child. You might, for example, play in a smaller space, use a bigger ball, practice somewhere where there argent lots of other distractions.

Talk to your child's teachers, and any sports coaches, so they understand your child's special learning needs, are aware of the challenges that can be expected over time, and can help to reinforce a structured approach in teaching skills.

Children on the autism spectrum need lots of encouragement to take part in physical activities, in order to maintain their physical ability and a basic level of physical fitness. You might need to help your child find a sport or activity that does not need to be done in competition with others, so he/she can experience success in it — for example, swimming or cycling.

Pitch your expectations at a level where success is likely, and remember to praise or reward small but significant steps toward a goal. Positive reinforcement is crucial.

Practice how to deal with difficult situations, recognizing that it may be hard to apply existing skills to new situations. Focus on tapping into the young person’s strengths, and changing the surroundings to compensate for things he or she finds difficult.

Respect the young person’s dignity, help them achieve their goals for themselves and aim continually to build self-esteem and confidence.

Be consistent in your expectations and approach – don't chop and change the ground rules for the young person. Children on the autism spectrum have trouble adapting to sudden changes in routine.

You may find yourself so busy trying to assist your child that you don't seem to be relating to him or her naturally any more. Try to give yourselves time off every now and then, and just be together for a bit. Remember to keep the emphasis on having fun, especially during any home-based programs.


See the Family and Carer issues section of the website for more information.


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A child learns a vast array of skills, each layer of learning building on the one before. Autism Spectrum Disorders disrupt this process to a greater or lesser extent.