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For parents of children with autism, creating and maintaining meaningful connections with their children is a challenging yet essential task. Children with autism often have difficulty understanding social cues and can be difficult to engage with. That’s why parents of children with autism must find unique ways to create meaningful connections and foster a loving bond with their children. Finding fun activities that both the parent and the child can enjoy can create opportunities for connection.
Keep reading to learn how to inject those activities with quality bonding to help strengthen the relationship between you, the parent, and your child with autism.
First, let’s understand what is getting in the way of making the connections we wish to create.
Barriers To Connecting with a Child Who Has Autism
There can be many barriers that make connecting to a child with autism extra difficult. These barriers can include communication difficulties, social skill deficits, motor skill deficits, and sensory sensitivities.
Nonverbal Autism & Communication
Nonverbal autism can make it difficult for parents to understand what their child is trying to communicate to them. In addition, children with autism won’t give verbal feedback either, leaving the parent wondering how the child is taking to their overtures of warmth.
Social Skills & Autism
Many children with autism struggle with initiating conversations, making eye contact, and understanding social cues. This can make it difficult for them to connect with other people, including their parents.
Motor Development & Autism
Many children with autism have difficulty with fine and gross motor skills, which can make it difficult for them to participate in physical activities.
Sensory Sensitivities & Autism
Sensory sensitivities can include hypersensitivity to sound, light, and touch and difficulty processing sensory information. Providing sensory-friendly activities can provide a safe and supportive environment for a child with autism to engage in activities without feeling overwhelmed. If a child is sensitive to touch, they may not appreciate a hug which is a primary way of showing love and creating loving connections. Parents will need to find other ways to do this.
Benefits of creating lasting connections through fun activities
The relationships children form with their parents, family and carers shape how they view the world, influencing every aspect of their development. Through these interactions, they learn to make sense of the world around them, communicating their thoughts and feelings through cries, laughter, and questions and receiving the reassurance of cuddles, smiles, and answers. This gives children the knowledge they need to think, understand, communicate, show emotion and grow social skills.
For example, when your baby babbles, responding in a friendly, loving, and gentle way encourages them to learn about communication, behavior, and emotions. “When I babble, Mom will babble to me. What I do is heard and seen. I matter and can affect a reaction in another person.” Your response also helps to build a secure and strong relationship between the two of you, offering a sense of security and giving them the confidence to explore the world around them. “My initiation of communication has been met with a soothing response. I will try that again!”
The Importance of Play in Developing Relationships
Playing is an essential part of your child’s development in their early years. It is fun and allows them to explore, observe, experiment, solve issues and make mistakes. Moreover, having a solid relationship with you helps your child benefit even more from playtime; your support gives them the courage to try new things. Spending quality time playing, talking, listening, and interacting with you helps your child learn invaluable life skills.
Participating in fun activities together creates meaningful opportunities for parents who want to build their relationship with their children. These activities can provide a safe and supportive space for the parent and the child to connect and engage. It can also help them gain self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, which helps them feel more secure in other less supportive environments.
One of the best resources for parents who want to create lasting connections with their children with autism is Beck Bailey’s book “I Love You Rituals.” It provides ideas for activities that can be done with your child.
Bailey developed her book based on her own experience with her son, who has autism. She wanted to create a resource that would help other parents. She believes that the best way to connect with children with autism is through fun activities that both the parent and the child can enjoy.
Unconditional love is something we all seek to find and hope to give.Becky Baily, Author of I Love You Rituals
According to Bailey, I Love You Rituals send messages of unconditional acceptance and love to children.
I Love You Rituals are structured activities that create a connection with eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness. Incorporating I Love You Rituals into bedtime, morning routine, meals, saying goodbye, diapering, and more, helps families establish a loving bond.
The power of love is undeniable – and these rituals can be a vital tool for all children. However, creating connections is difficult for those with challenging behaviors, those at risk, or with special needs. These rituals can be especially effective in fostering a solid yet difficult-to-achieve connection and aiding the development of a child with autism.
What Can Parents Do to Connect and Engage with Their Child with Autism?
When creating activities for parents and their children with autism, it is essential to consider the needs and abilities of both the parent and the child. Parents should look for activities that are appropriate for their child’s age and ability level, and enjoyable for the parent. Parents should also consider their child’s sensory sensitivities and motor development when creating activities. For example, suppose a child is sensitive to certain textures. Perhaps touching playdough freaks them out, or they loathe the feeling of sand or mud. In that case, parents should look for activities that involve materials that are comfortable for their child.
Becky Bailey provides several tips for creating activities for parents to do with their children with autism. Some of these tips include:
- Create an environment that is comfortable and calming for your child.
- Focus on activities that involve sensory stimulation or movement.
- Engage in activities that require problem-solving or creative thinking.
- Allow your child to take breaks when needed.
- Encourage your child to take part in activities that involve communication.
- Provide your child with positive reinforcement when they complete activities.
These rituals can help foster a sense of security and connection among family members and make the child feel more included and loved.
Examples of ‘I Love You Rituals’ for Parents and Their Children with Autism
There are many activities that parents can do with their children with autism to create lasting connections. Bailey has also suggested some times for the rituals. These examples and more can be found in her book, I Love You Rituals
When your children wake up: Mr. Sun
Materials: Face paint or markers, preferably yellow for the sun and another color that matches the color of the child’s eyes.
Preparation and Instructions: This song is sung with the child while you draw a picture on the back of the child’s hand. Sitting facing each other, begin the activity by holding the child’s hand palm down.
Have the markers or paint ready to use. “Oh, Mr. Sun, Sun” Draw a round circle on the back of the child’s hand to represent the sun. “Mr. Golden Sun,” Draw the rays of the sun radiating from the circle.
Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, Won’t you smile down on my friend [say the child’s name]? Oh Mr. Sun, Sun Mr. Golden Sun, Won’t you shine down on my friend [say the child’s name]?
When your children go to bed (or are resting): Snuggle Time
Preparation and Instructions: Each day, designate a “snuggle time.” This is a five-minute time-out from the hustle of life.
The Game: To make a gentle transition from a busy time to a snuggle time, say the rhyme. This rhyme signals you and the child to locate each other and settle in together. Snuggle time is the time to hold each other, rock in a chair, or read a book.
Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I hurry. Sometimes I fuss. And sometimes I worry. All is not lost. Everything is fine. I love you so much. Now it’s snuggle time!
When welcoming them home from school: Greetings
Preparation and Instructions: The goal of this game is to be delightful and silly.
The Game: When the child arrives home from school, begin by shaking the child’s hand and saying, “It is wonderful to see you.” Then start to get silly by shaking other body parts. Give a handshake to the child’s foot, commenting, “It is wonderful to meet you, Mr. [or Ms.] foot.” Next, shake the child’s elbow, knee, pinky finger, earlobe, hair, thumbs, and nose. Any body part will do.
When celebrating milestones: Growing Up
This can be to celebrate milestones, such as a birthday, losing a tooth, the birth of a new sibling, and so on.
Preparation and Instructions: This is a beautiful activity for older siblings facing a new baby in the family. They longed for the time when they were the center of your focus. This game allows them to see themselves growing up while allowing them to reminisce about the “good old days.” This is a poem that gives you the opportunity to hold your child. First, place the child in your lap and hold them like a baby. Then, in a soothing voice, share the poem with the child.
When you were just a baby, you did not know how to walk.
You could only crawl, crawl around like this.
When you were just a baby, you did not know how to talk.
You could only babble, babble just like this.
Now you are this big. And go to school each day.
You can do many things, like walk and talk and play.
Variations: Children love to hear stories of when they were younger or babies. This poem provides a perfect opportunity to share some of those cherished memories. It is also an excellent time to share with the child all the things you have noticed they are capable of doing.
Other activities that foster connection
Art and Crafts
Creative activities, such as art and crafts, are great for parents and their autistic children to do together. Art and crafts can provide an excellent opportunity for the parent and child to bond and can range from simple tasks, such as painting and coloring, to more involved tasks, such as building a model or creating a sculpture. In addition, art and craft activities can help foster creativity and imagination and allow the child to express themselves.
Music and dance can also be wonderful ways for parents to connect with their children with autism. Whether it’s enjoying the classics, singing along with Mickey and Donald, or relaxing to beautiful instrumentals, there is no denying the music makes memories. Hearing a particular song or tune conjures up images of people and places long buried in the past. Music is a magical gateway to cherished moments and building bonds. In addition, it can provide a calming and soothing effect and help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Outdoor activities allow your child to explore and learn about their environment. In addition, outdoor activities can be a great way to get some fresh air and exercise. For example, you can take your child to the park and play games, such as tag or hide-and-seek. You can also take your child on a nature walk or let them explore and play in a sandbox or a playground.
Some other ideas include:
• Going on a scavenger hunt
• Playing a game of charades
• Doing a science experiment
• Making a time capsule
• Going to a museum
• Drawing or painting
• Making a music video
• Going on a picnic
• Playing a game of catch
Looking For More Ideas?
Infusing any of these activities with “I Love You Rituals” will give the activity the added benefit of creating lasting connections and fostering the parent-child relationship which is so vital for the social-emotional development of your child.
If you are looking for more ideas for activities that you and your child with autism can do together, there are many resources available. Visit Circle Care Services and sign up for our email list. With the right resources and activities, you can create lasting connections with your autistic child and provide a nurturing environment for them to thrive.