Autism Month Draws to a Close, But Let's Continue the Conversation
Here are two ways parents can have a positive impact on their autistic child and family
National Autism Awareness Month is drawing to a close, but the challenges of parenting an autistic child continue well past the month of April. As a registered psychiatric nurse and local small business owner whose products are used by the autism community, I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties these parents face every single day.
Autism diagnoses are on the rise, with one in every 68 children affected. The medical community has responded in turn, offering an array of therapies and adapting the diagnostic criteria. But there still are, and will always be, limits to what the medical community can do. Many parents are left to find treatments on their own, which can feel both intimidating and isolating.
I believe that the two most important actions parents can take to have a positive impact on their autistic child and their entire family:
1. Learn to communicate effectively with their autistic child.
2. Develop a network of support for themselves and their family.
Communicating With Your Autistic Child
Autistic children are universally impacted by communication deficits. Therefore, relying solely on auditory methods of communication and learning may be ineffective. In learning to communicate with their autistic child, parents who utilize a multisensory approach often see positive results.
For example, the use of visual aids has proven helpful on all ends of the spectrum. Nonverbal autistic children can learn to communicate their wants and needs using the Picture Exchange Communications Systems (PECS). Visual reminders can help children to conquer daily tasks from personal hygiene to reading, while visual cues can help them predict what’s coming next, leading to decreased anxiety and fewer outbursts.
Finding a network of support is critical for families dealing with autism. The Autism Society and Autism Speaks are two national organizations with state and local chapters that can connect parents with others who are going through the same struggles. The Chapel Hill TEACCH Center is another fantastic resource for parents in the Triangle.
Research shows tremendous benefits when autistic children are given the opportunity to develop peer groups through music, art and/or animal therapy. North Carolina groups who provide these services include Voices Together in Durham and Shepherd Youth Ranch in Creedmoor, where I have had the opportunity to volunteer and see firsthand how autistic children benefit from working with horses.
Because children with autism vary so widely in their abilities, parents may initially have to rely on trial and error to find what works for their child. It helps to know others who have been through the process and can provide advice and support.
This April, and every month hereafter, let’s continue to raise awareness and support for children with autism and their families.
Jennifer Edmundson, co-founder of Kenson Kids, is a psychiatric nurse whose continuing education focus is on autism. Her Youngsville, North Carolina-based business creates kids reward charts and token boards that are compatible with autism picture programs like PECS. Her business donates a portion of all website sales to the Autism Society of America.