A Typical Day of an Autistic Child
Autistic children like a structured routine. We can understand that from few examples.
You take a particular route to their school daily and for some reason you take a different route one day. That is sure to make them throw a tantrum. As they are not always vocal, it is very difficult for young parents to pinpoint the reason for their behavior. They like their play things to be kept in a particular order and cannot tolerate any deviation. Some older children very quickly rearrange the things to their liking. We can go on citing examples.
It goes without saying that we should plan for the day. We can have day to day, weekly, monthly, yearly plans or targets and proceed slowly. Following a routine makes our work easier.
It is better to feed them anything only after brushing. If you give in to their demands, say, by giving them bed coffee one morning, that becomes a habit. These children do not have a well-defined moral compass. To put it in other words, they do not know, whether an action is good or bad. Do the right thing, or whatever you will do with a normal child.
Do not let them grab food items. Make them understand that actions like crying, hitting and banging the head against something are not going to help them get the desired thing. They are more intelligent than we think. Reinforce a good behavior by giving them a hug or taking them for a small ride.
They don’t like their hands becoming messy and avoid eating on their own. You can give them a spoon, but as far as possible make them eat on their own. It will be good if they are independent to the maximum extent possible. Buy simple shoes without straps so that they can put them on without your help. Similarly teach them to dress. It is possible to teach them at a very young age that coming out of their room without dress is prohibited.
Have priorities. They have to learn certain basic things early. Few things can wait. It is the duty of an intelligent parent to prioritize and teach them important things first. Teach them to indicate when they have to answer nature’s call. If they don’t learn, this is may lead to many embarrassing situations. Never give up hope. There is always a tomorrow.
Autistic children don’t mingle with other kids well and don’t play. As physical activity is lower in their life, they tend to put on weight. From the beginning, feed them carefully. We don’t have to show our love by overfeeding them. If necessary, a dietician may be consulted. They need exercise. Religiously take them for walks. You will be able to overcome initial troubles with great patience and love. They may not cooperate and may try to have their way. Unless there are health issues, be firm and teach them repeatedly.
Regarding medication, you and your doctor are the best judges. From our experience, for a child who is passive and obeys commands, very little or even no medicine is required. We have not administered any medicine to our 26 year old son and are managing quite well. However, I want to stress that a general rule cannot be followed. Some children have seizures and in some autism is associated with severe mental retardation. Such children have to take medicines under the supervision of an expert doctor. Please don’t keep changing doctors just because someone tells you that “another doctor is good and he will bring your child out of autism” or things like that. Find the right doctor by doing good spade work, talk to your child’s special educator, see whether the doctor is competent enough to make your child feel comfortable during the visits and then stick to that doctor. Then only he will understand your child well and you can always seek their help in case of an emergency.
Sleep patterns are the most difficult things. They won’t sleep when you want them to sleep. Be sensitive and understanding. Working with your child throughout the day tires a mother. She just cannot sleep when the child is awake. Autistic children are not aware of dangers and may do something terrible like playing with electrical connections, fire or may swallow something and the list goes on. All of us have a sleep cycle and feel irritated when that gets disturbed; the same is the case with autistic children. Try to put them to sleep when your family goes to bed but don’t forcefully wake them up when you get up. It is perfectly alright if they sleep a little more. Any disturbance during sleep spoils their day. It is not easy for them to come out of that mood soon.
With passing years they certainly improve. The extent of improvement depends on the severity of their problems. Same methods do not bring about the same results in all the children. When your efforts do not give the expected results, don’t get down on yourself. Keep your expectations moderate. There are people with worse problems. We should not be thinking about our small self all the time. Doing our best for our child is our responsibility, but to see the fruits of our efforts, we need cooperation from another person who is in his own world. It is a herculean task to break down walls and get into their world. Try, try and try some more.
Be happy that God has given some meaning to your life. Don’t worry too much about their future. Simply worrying about things which are not under our control does not help. Save for the child’s future because very few autistic people reach to a stage where they can earn a living for themselves. Even if they start earning, they may not learn to judiciously invest what they earn. Identify someone who is in your child’s age group who will take care of the child when you will be old. You must have a fighting spirit. The world is for brave people!
Photo source: My autistic son Raghavun at play.