So your child is on the spectrum... What now?
From 2012 to 2015 the number of Australians with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) rose from 115,400 to 164,000*, an increase of 42.1%. This upsurge means more and more parents are faced with the worry of what to do when they are told their child is on the spectrum. Thankfully, there is plenty of support out there to help families navigate through this difficult time.
Jill Cumberbatch from Dandelion Clinical Psychology for Children believes that one of the most important first steps as a parent is to understand what this means for your child and how it affects thinking and behaviour.
“If, as a parent, you are able to grasp why your child may have responded to a situation, your response is likely to be the most helpful to your child,” says Jill. “For example, children with ASD often have much anxiety around change and transitions. Things that don’t go as the child expects can cause them to feel increased anxiety, leading to emotional or behavioural reactions that can be very stressful for all the family.”
If you can predict and prepare your child for the change through using things such as visual planners and pictures, this can help them feel ready for the change, and cope well.
What to look for in a school or day care environment
Young people with autism may need a high level of support to participate in their education. In 2015, 55.8%* of young people with autism needed special tuition and 41.8%* need help from a counsellor or disability support person.
Jill recommends looking for a day care setting or classroom where they have an understanding of the condition.
“Opportunities for quiet spaces within the classroom or day care setting are important
if they become overwhelmed with sensory stimulation,” suggests Jill. “Also, flexibility in teaching styles such as allowing headphones for quiet working to reduce noise and improve concentration, allowing movement for those sensory seekers or, if restless or active, giving permission for rest or movement breaks.” Educators who are able to take the time to
get to know your child individually and tailor
learning as much as possible is the ideal.
What support is available outside school?
There is lots of support out there! Start with a Mental Health Care Plan from your GP and seek support from your local psychologist. Early diagnosis can also bring funding for Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy, if required.
“There are many psychologists who also support children individually and parents to understand the diagnosis and work with children to learn emotional regulation,” says Jill.
“And there are psychologists who will support families with parenting strategies to help reduce frustration in the home when distraction or impulsivity is occurring.”
There are also many helpful support networks across the region:
- Australian Government DEPT
of Social Services: dss.gov.au
- AEIOU: aeiou.org.au
- Autism QLD: autismqld.com.au
- Minds & Hearts: mindsandhearts.net
- Steps Autism Treehouse: stepsautismtreehouse.org.au
- Autism Gold Coast:
How to support siblings
It’s important to work with siblings to help them understand the diagnosis. There are resources and books available to help with this from the library, your local support network, or your psychologist.
“Ensure some one-on-one time with siblings, particularly if things have been difficult in the family prior to diagnosis,” suggests Jill.
Jill also believes that self-care for parents is critical. “It can be a highly stressful time for parents and families so taking care of themselves is very important. Find some respite if possible, with grandparents or extra time in day care,” she says. “Calm and rested parents means calm responses and better parenting. This helps contain children and their emotions which improves their wellbeing overall.”
Jill Cumberbatch is owner and clinical psychologist at Dandelion Clinical Psychology.
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Written by Angela Sutherland
After spending many years hustling stories on busy editorial desks around the world, Angela is now mum of two little ones and owner/editor at Kids on the Coast / Kids in the City. She is an atrocious cook and loves cutting shapes to 90s dance music.