What to do while waiting
The process of undergoing an autism assessment is usually lengthy and emotionally taxing.
For parents, issues such as long waiting lists and limited resources mean their child could be waiting some time to be seen by a professional for assessment and then for therapy after a diagnosis is received.
Parents often seek practical advice on how to interact with their child or any skills they can incorporate into their day/night routines.
These are some general, practical strategies that may help your family, both before and after diagnosis is received.
Focus on your child, not the diagnosis:
The diagnosis is a signpost or map to help you help your child reach their full potential but there is so much more to your child than Autism.
Find and join a local support group for parents of children with Autism or Special Needs. Other parents are a great source of knowledge and experience. If there is no support group near you there are lots of online groups on Facebook and parenting forums.
Get an accordion file box, or something similar to organize all your reports, correspondence and call log sheets. It is important to keep track of all correspondence with therapists, doctors, programmes etc., so that you can record your child’s progress.
Learn the jargon. If you don’t understand a term ask for an explanation or make a note for yourself, so that you can research later.
You must actively educate yourself about Autism. Ensure you obtain your information from reputable organisations and sources.
Remember to take your time! You don’t have to read everything all at once. There is a lot of information to assimilate and it can take several months to absorb it all.
Build your child’s vocabulary by labelling items in the child’s natural environment and through daily routines.
For children who are not yet using words meaningfully, you may need to begin with simple language at a one- word level (ball, book, toothbrush).
You can then move to two words including descriptors (green ball) and actions (ball bouncing), and so on.
Parents are often very good at anticipating their child’s needs. However, if we anticipate every need and give freely, we miss valuable opportunities to encourage communication. There must be a healthy balance, but sometime it pays to ‘play dumb.’
Place items in sight but out of reach to encourage requesting. Even if you know what your child wants, pause and wait for your child to request. For some children, this might be a point and a glance, for others a single approximation or word, and yet others a phrase or sentence.
If your child does not make a request, you can help by offering a model (supplying the word/phrase) and waiting for your child to repeat.
However, as a general guideline you would not want to provide more than 2-3 models before giving over the item as the aim is to encourage communication, but avoid frustration.
You can create additional opportunities for communication by creating obstacles or setting up ‘communicative temptations.’
Some examples include:
- Place preferred items in clear Tupperware containers or bags that they can’t open
- Give cereal, porridge, or yogurt without a spoon
- At meals/snack time, only offer your child small portions (i.e. half a biscuit, part of a sandwich, a sip of juice) to provide extra opportunities to request
- Engage your child in activities that have natural ends and require adult facilitation (bubbles, wind-up toys, spinning tops), which provide multiple opportunities within an activity
- Give electronic toys with batteries removed
- Encourage the use of gestures in everyday activities
- Young children and children with communication difficulties often require very short tasks with immediate reinforcement to understand the relationship between their behaviour and its effects
- Keep activities short, manageable and age appropriate. Try to ensure the child feels successful
- Clapping hands within a song can promote child-parent interaction and provide the opportunity for some shared attention and eye contact
- Encourage waving upon greeting or leaving friends and family. Point to novel or exciting things in the environment
- Nursery rhymes and finger plays are great for encouraging interaction and communication. Periodically pause and wait for your child to initiate some response to seek continuation. As your child becomes familiar with the routines, begin to pause at the end of phrases to offer a chance for your child to fill-in the rest
- When encouraging eye contact, be sure to position yourself appropriately. Get down to the child’s level. You might sing songs with your child on your lap face-to-face, or let them lay back on a mat or bean bag with you on the floor and them facing you
- Children experiencing communication, developmental, or social challenges often explore the world through other senses. They may enjoy sensory toys (such as squeeze toys) or bubble play, music or toys with different lights and sounds, or messy play with sand, foam, or water. Encourage such sensory play, but monitor for safety (e.g. mouthing/ingesting unsafe items)
Establish consistent routines for events throughout the day (leaving home, mealtime, bedtime, etc). As with all children, routines provide a sense of control or predictability.
Children with communication difficulties often have more difficulty making sense of their environment and find changes in routines very difficult, making routines that much more important.
Incorporating story time into bedtime routines is a great way to settle down, provides opportunity for parent-child interaction, and is a great time for encouraging language and communication.
Using ‘first- then’ statements and visual schedules throughout the day can be very helpful in clarifying events throughout the day as well.
Encourage Physical Activity
Physical activity is important for all children and can be beneficial in many ways.
For children who experience sensory or communication challenges, activities such as jumping on a trampoline, going to the park, and swimming provide opportunities for movement and are great for exposing children to different, yet enticing and language rich environments.
Remember to use techniques such as the communication temptations and labelling during these times.
If you’d like more information, or would like to talk to someone about getting mores support please contact us – we are here to help.