Children flourish when they feel safe and connected to those around them. When an autistic child’s needs are met, they are engaged, confident and more capable of adjusting to change. There are many social barriers that can prevent this outcome. But most can be dealt with by increasing our own understanding, challenging our assumptions and helping to create a safe environment for learning.
In this series we’ll explore strategies and tools you can use to help reduce frustration, dial-down anxiety and create opportunities for confident social interaction. We’ll be tackling three main areas of autism related impairment for your child:
Social communication refers to the means by which we communicate with each other, including spoken language and non-verbal signals such as facial expression. Children with ASD can struggle with speech development, the ability to interpret body language, facial expressions and spoken instructions.
Social understanding is the grammar of social etiquette: the unwritten rules of how to interact with people. Unable to grasp these rules, autistic children can appear insensitive or rude and as a result they might struggle to make friends.
Social imagination and flexible thinking are terms which cover an individual’s ability to deal with change and plan ahead. Even subtle differences can cause autistic children distress and they will often use repetitive behaviours to help cope.
Autism Friendly Support (AFS) offers many practical approaches which you can apply immediately with your child. Rae Britton says it doesn't necessarily require medical knowledge or expertise. “These are some of the most basic things you can do: managing noise, the structure of a classroom, seating, tone of voice, the way you phrase questions. These are very simple steps that quickly make a difference to the child.”
The support needs to come from the people and environments surrounding your child, including teachers and staff at any extracurricular clubs, groups or teams your child is involved with. Clinical psychologist Dr Christine Cull says, “It’s not about asking people to become experts, but rather encouraging them to think about how environments are managed and how they communicate with the child. Ultimately it’s about what works for the individual.”
If one of our upcoming blog posts feels particularly relevant for your child, we recommend sharing the advice with people in your child’s community. It isn’t always straightforward though. Dr Cull believes that naming the specific condition of autism really helps. “It’s difficult to ask other people to do the same thing when there isn’t always a clear rationale why they should do it. Once you get the diagnosis, it highlights specific impairments and you can begin to understand why your child needs things to be a certain way.”
This series of blogs is designed to highlight areas of challenge and tools to make things easier. But ultimately, as parents you are the people best placed to say what helps and what doesn’t. You can take our advice and shape it to suit your own child. “You become so expert at recognising the challenges of each environment that you can abbreviate that process to a manageable list, then hand it over to another adult,” says Rae Britton.
Many of the strategies we will share with you in this series - from visual learning to written instructions and extra verbal cues - will have relevance beyond helping autistic children. “Sometimes parents feel like they’re saying, I need this for MY child, and that can feel demanding,” says Rae. “It helps to remind yourself that good provision for an autistic child is also good provision for others in the class.” What helps an autistic child may ultimately benefit others around them.”
The examples described within this article, and the following pieces give examples of approaches that can help to reduce the impact of autism specific impairments. It is not a fully comprehensive directory of all available interventions, and some of the suggestions may not be appropriate for all children.
At Clinical Partners our specialist clinicians have years of experience supporting children and adults with autism. To find out more about what’s available, visit our autism hub, listen to the latest podcast in our autism masterclass series for parents or call the team on 0203 326 9160.
If you're struggling with an emotional or mental health problem, call us now to make an appointment face-to-face or online - and take the first step in getting the support you need.