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Family dynamics can change drastically when you have a child with autism in the family. Something as simple as going to the grocery store can take careful planning and accurate timing in order to accomplish the task. Something bigger like planning a trip to an amusement park can take careful planning, back up planning, and even additional family members or friends to even consider attempting the feat.
What Activities Can You Do With An Autistic Child
Depending on the severity of your child’s autism, there can be a laundry list of variables and obstacles to work through in order to make family activities and outings a pleasant experience.
Consider what it might be like for a couple with three or four kids that scrimps and saves to take the whole family to Disneyland or some far away location for a weeklong vacation. They finally manage to save up the money, but in their excitement they fail to consider what it will be like to travel for long hours by car, or by plane with a child who has autism. They might even make assumptions about how their child will react to the amount of people or the noise at their final destination. Without considering all of the possible scenarios and their solutions, this family could potentially face spending a lot of time and money on a miserable experience.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Having a child with autism doesn’t mean that the world stops and life as you once knew it is over. It simply means that whatever you do as a family has to be done with a little different perspective and with some careful considerations that will help you and your family have good experiences when you set out to enjoy family activities.
Why It’s Important To Include Children With ASD In Family Activities
Inclusion is important for a child with autism. The best way for a child to learn how to behave appropriately is to see appropriate behavior in action. This applies to home and school settings, but it always starts at home with family where a child spends most of his/her time.
Exposure to new environments, new tasks, new activities, and new people are extremely important because it is real life in action. A typical day for most of us can be filled with new faces and unexpected situations. We are required to communicate, problem solve, and perform certain tasks- all of which a child with autism would benefit to learn. The best way for a child with autism to learn these skills is to see them in action and to emulate them.
Given enough opportunities, a child with autism will learn and grow from a variety of experiences and challenges which leads to satisfaction and enjoyment of new things. This can lead to a greater sense of self confidence in a child with autism. Self confidence increases the willingness to try new things in a child with autism.
The goal is to promote greater independence in all areas of life which will lead to a higher quality of life. Repeated exposure to a variety of experiences and constant encouragement to do things independently are the greatest gifts you can give to a child on the autism spectrum. Typically, most children with autism are rigid in their routines and activities and it takes a lot of support and prompting from close family, friends, and teachers to branch out and try new things. Yet, it is one of the most important things that we can do to help a person with autism to discover and cultivate a life with peers of the same age, in work environments, and in social settings.
How To Promote Inclusion In Family Activities For Your Child With ASD
The best place to start with family activity inclusion is by starting with what your child with autism likes. For example, if your child likes to draw or color, you can make it a family activity. Have everyone sit at a table together and create artwork together. It’s simple and it creates a sense of togetherness for the family but most especially for the child with autism.
Expand on this a bit and prompt your child to participate in something new with the family. Go to the park and play ball. Take a short hike or nature walk somewhere. Choose an activity that is brief, easy, and out in the open in order to keep the chances of being overwhelmed nice and low.
If your child with autism takes a liking to a new activity, stick with it for a little bit and lengthen the time that the family spends on it. You can also add some new variables or challenges to an activity to promote a little problem solving or tolerance to how long your child is able to endure a group activity with the family.
For example, if you and the family are playing cards or a board game and your child with autism wants to quit the game- encourage him/her to finish or play another round or two. When your child complies with that request, reward him/her with praise or some type of reinforcement that your child enjoys (free time, a snack, or a preferred activity or object).
Keep demands low and avoid things that trigger negative responses in your child with ASD. If you are aware that your child is easily overwhelmed, encourage activities in baby steps and keep things brief. If you know that certain words, sounds, sights, or smells are triggers for frustration, upset, or complete meltdowns – just avoid those things completely or discuss them in advance and only expose your child for brief periods of time.
Complete avoidance can lead to a complete inability to cope with certain stressors like sounds or smells. Small doses of things that are aversive to a child with autism can actually help him/her to build up a tolerance to certain things. This is highly situational and up to the discretion of parents. The idea is to teach flexibility and appropriate responses to things that are aversive to a child with autism.
You know your child best. You know how long your child can tolerate an activity. You know his/her likes and dislikes. You know what he/she will try and what things he/she will run away from. Use this knowledge to teach your child to try new things and to help him/her accept things that he/she may have had an exaggerated response to.
What If They Find Something So Aversive That They Won’t Do It?
If there is something that your child absolutely refuses to accept or participate in, it is completely acceptable to enjoy some time with your other children while your child with autism stays home with the other parent or a relative.
Autism affects other family members. It can cause a lot of stress and feelings of resentment from typically developing siblings toward the sibling with autism if there are too many instances of canceling a favorite activity or of having to compromise too much.
It isn’t fair to the other children in the family. The child with autism is equally responsible to accommodate to the likes and dislikes of their sibling. That is what learning inclusion is all about.
It also isn’t fair to parents to completely alter their lifestyle as a couple to accommodate a child with autism. A child with autism needs to learn boundaries and that parents have a need to spend individual time together as well. This is healthy and good to teach a child with autism. In the long run, parents will be happier because they made a concerted effort to spend time together and cultivate a good relationship and that is good for the family as a whole.
Be Firm But Flexible
The best course of action for any family that has a child with autism in the mix is to treat him/her like you would treat any family member. Include your child with ASD in all of the activities that your other children would be included in.
Try to balance family activities with things that the family likes to do and accommodate the things that your child with autism likes to do. It’s very likely that the things that your child with autism likes to do are not too far off from the family norm.
Flexibility is important because if a situation arises with your autistic child and activities need to be cut short or altered, it is important that the family is ready to do so. Trying to force a child with autism to accept something that they are unwilling to participate in can be stressful and disastrous.
Don’t stop encouraging and inviting your child with autism to try new activities. In fact, require at least a little bit of effort or a short amount of time before excusing him/her from the activity. He/she may need time to process and come back to it later.
Our highly qualified team of professionals can help guide you and your family in the best ways to include your child with autism in family activities. At Circle Care Services in New Jersey we have group activities and a social skills club for children that encourages new activities and settings to acclimate a child with autism to the idea of trying new things. We love what we do, and we would love to help you and your family feel like a family that enjoys time together. Call us today for a free consultation.
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