Children with autism learn, behave, socialize, and communicate in ways that are different than their peers of the same age. The spectrum of autism is wide; some kids can speak clearly, while others are completely nonverbal. Certain children need intensive help with daily living skills, while others are more independent. It is important that children with autism receive specialized services to help strengthen their areas of weakness. However, when services are scarce, or when your child is also receiving them at school, you can further support skills development at home with the ideas detailed below.
Create a Schedule
Individuals with autism thrive on routine. Changes in that routine and new, unexpected events can throw them off and lead to negative behaviors. Try sticking to a regular schedule at home for meals, wake up time, bed time, therapy, after school activities, and other daily activities. You should also create a visual schedule that your child can see. It should beia large chart indicating the time for each event, along with a description and corresponding picture. For instance, you might write 7:00 am wake up (with a picture of someone waking up), 7:30am breakfast (with a picture of someone eating breakfast), 8:00 am school (with a picture of a school), 3:30pm speech therapy (with a picture of a child receiving therapy), 6:00 pm dinner (with a picture of someone eating dinner), and so on. The more structured and consistent the schedule is, the better.
Children with autism respond well to regular and consistent rewards. Every time you see your child doing a good job on a task (like completing a homework sheet or putting their dish in the sink), praise them and give them a reward such as a sticker or special prize. Try not to wait too long to offer the reward; the more frequent the rewards come, the better. Also, try to individualize the rewards based on your child’s interests. Some children like physical toys while others prefer watching a television show or playing a video game. Some kids are even fine with just a hug or a nice praise.
Try Play Therapy at Home
Many children with autism struggle to interact and play with other kids. Instead, they often play alone and repeat the same motions over and over again. While play therapy by a professional is likely the best option for developing play and social skills, you can also help your child build these skills at home. To do so, start by laying out a mix of toys in front of your child, like cars, trains, dolls, and animals, or even squeaky toys or bubble jars. Have them look at all the toys and decide which one they want to play with at that time. Later, you can try to engage with them using a more interactive game. You can also be more directed in your approach by presenting toys that offer specific learning opportunities. For instance, present your child with a baby doll to help them learn life skills like dressing and undressing the doll, bathing it, feeding it, and so on. You can also use kitchen toys (including a pretend kitchen) to build play, social, and life skills. Have your child say the names of different foods, make a meal, and then discuss the meal with you. You can ask pointed questions, like “What’s for dinner tonight?”, “What vegetable are we eating?”, and “Is there anything for dessert?” Playing with play doh can strengthen your child’s muscles, which can help with writing, and allow them to be creative in forming shapes while also improving their cutting skills.
Playing games is a great family activity that can also help your child with autism build important skills. For instance, to build sequencing and following directions skills, try playing Simon Says – where kids follow commands that engage gross motor movements. Commands might include “Simon says, hop on one leg” or “Simon says, touch your nose.” So as to build speaking and listening skills, you can play the game Conversation Cubes. This game includes thirty-six cubes; each with a conversation starter question on it, like “What do you like to do in cold weather?” and “What foods do you like?” Players can answer the questions orally to build oral language skills, or you can even use them as writing prompts to help your child get started with a writing piece.
Children with autism respond well to services from professionals during, and often outside of, school.
However, the additional support you provide at home can help them further develop their social, academic, and general life skills.
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