April is Autism Awareness Month. The Center for Disease Control defines autism as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.” One in 54 kids are autistic and whether your child is autistic or not, everyone knows someone with an autistic child. Talking about autism normalizes it.
Whether you are raising a child with autism, know someone with autism or planning on hiring someone on the autism spectrum, it is important to ensure that they are treated with respect and inclusion. While the stigma around those with autism is still rampant in the workplace, some companies are now recognizing that hiring people with neurological differences could give them a competitive edge. In fact, people on the autism spectrum who are high-functioning are known to have extraordinary cognitive abilities linked to memory, concentration and analysis.
There is a lot of misconceptions about autism. Autism doesn’t operate on a linear spectrum. So autistic people don’t fall somewhere on a line with ‘less autistic’ at the beginning and ‘more autistic’ at the end. Rather, autistic people, just like everyone, has varying skillsets and it is important to recognize these skills.
If you or someone you know are raising a child with autism, here are six tips to ensure success:
- Make sure you have a daily routine. Autistic children tend to like structure and take comfort in its predictability. We made a daily schedule with Marston and wrote it on a big dry erase board. It listed such things as:
– Wake up time;
– School work;
– Chores that needed to be done on certain days such as laundry, vacuum, change sheets; and
– Zoom meetings with friends and family to keep up socialization (especially during Covid)
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone’s busy and that makes it hard to ask for or accept help. For some, it’s difficult to let your friends, family, other kids or partner help because they may not do things the same way you do them. Or maybe letting other people know you feel stressed or overwhelmed is just not your style. After all, parents are expected to be good at multitasking and juggling their kids’ and their own needs. However, there are many adults and children looking for a summer job that would appreciate the extra money. Encourage these helpers to get involved by taking your child to a play date, movie or out to dinner. These are all life experiences that can help your child as well as give the parents a respite.
- List your child’s weaknesses, their strengths, how to address them, and if therapies are making a positive impact. This evaluation helps to know where to concentrate efforts and when to look for alternative therapies. The list can include their diet, speech, coordination, hygiene, vision, and cognition. We began chipping away at these each and every day.
- Keep your child busy over the summer. Look for a summer camp that is designed for similar children. This can be an overnight or a day camp. It is a little scary sending your child away, but it develops skills that can’t be developed at home. Check out local YMCA and see if they have a swim program/lessons for special needs kids. There are special needs swim instructors. The sensory aspect of water is calming and enjoyable, helping to regulation emotions as well as balance.
Other summer activities include hippotherapy and/or a music activity. Look into if local farms/barns offer Hippotherapy. Horse therapy offers children with autism spectrum disorder improved quality life, coordination, balance, strength, and sensory issues. Similarly, try to find a music activity, dance, or concert. Many kids with ASD love music and summer is a great time to explore an outdoor concert where they are free to dance and sway with music; all without judgement.
- Teach your child responsibility. If they are old enough, look for a summer job. It teaches your child responsibility, helps to decrease idle time, increases socialization, and decreases fears of unknown. There is vocational rehabilitation (a state-run, county administered program to help developmentally disabled adults find and keep employment). Also ask friends and family if they need help. They may appreciate the extra help.
- Keep a strong support system. The best advice given to me, is that parents of special needs children need special needs themselves. They need to know more, to do more, so they need more patience, comforting, understanding, compassion, and rest than the parents of normal children. Talk over a pot of coffee, share a meal, or watch a movie. Take time to connect and laugh with others and free yourself from your usual worries. Support groups, both online and in-person, can be helpful, too.
Every day is a challenge to be a working parent with a child with special needs, but if you implement the tips above you will be one step closer to ensuring a proper work-life balance where you can dedicate the time you need to your child with special needs. If you are a CEO who works with or employees a special needs individual, recognizing their strengths can ensure a seamless workplace for everyone.
Commentary by Christine (Chris) Weiss. Dr. Eric Weiss is the Co-Author of Educating Marston: A Mother and Son’s Journey Through Autism. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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