Guest post by Paul Denikin of DadKnowsDIY.
Having a child on the autism spectrum means doing most things a bit differently. It can be difficult to know how to navigate around certain events, especially when they require so much planning to keep your child safe and happy, yet it’s imperative to be prepared in order to do just that.
When thinking about projects in and around your home--crafts, DIY fixer-upper jobs, or simply rearranging the rooms to make them more accommodating for your child—find the best ways to get your child involved, because big changes can lead to anxiety. Having a helping hand in these projects will allow your child to feel a measure of control and will likely make the transition easier.
Here are some of the best ways to get your child involved around the house while keeping them safe.
Big tasks--painting a room, or rearranging furniture--can lead to overwhelming changes for a child on the autism spectrum, so it might be best to start small. Create a space in your home that’s just for your child, full of soft textures, color, lights, and soothing music (if they enjoy music). You might put in a sensory table they can help with; with objects such as cotton balls, beads, rice, water, and anything else your child enjoys running her fingers through. The senses are very important to a child on the spectrum, but every child is different, so be sure to do some research on what she might enjoy and what to stay away from. And don’t forget to get their input! You can find out more about sensory play here.
Create safe zones
Many children who fall on the spectrum are at risk for wandering, so it’s imperative to make sure your home--and the surrounding area--is safe. If your home has stairs, for instance, the use of baby gates can be extremely helpful in keeping your child away from them. It’s also a good idea to make sure the appliances in your home are child-friendly--such as a stove with removable knobs--and install motion sensor alarms on the doors so you always know when someone comes in or goes out.
Keeping your child safe outdoors is a concern, as well. Having well-lighted steps is a good start, but you’ll also need to make sure your child can’t wander away. Keeping safe zones around your home is a great way to ensure your own peace of mind should she leave without you knowing, or if you want to give her a bit of freedom to play outside. A strong privacy fence is a great way to go, but there are many things to consider first, including pricing, size, material, and finding the right fencing company for your needs. Do some research on the different types available to you, and find some help with narrowing down your choices here.
A fun way to involve your child in these processes is to introduce her to the game “Red Light, Green Light”, in which you have him or her move around the areas while you coach them. When they get too close to the edge of your property--or to a door they need to stay away from--say, “Red light!” When they move away from it and into the safe zone, say, “Green light!” Keep it fun, but let them know those “red light” areas are to be avoided.
You can also allow your older child to be involved in choosing the fence; the design, color, and height are all things to be considered, so look online at different types and ask what their favorite is, and what they dislike. After it’s installed, consider working on a sign together to hang on that gate with your family’s name or address, or create a little garden in one corner of the yard that the two of you can work on throughout the year.
Play up your child’s strengths
Many children who fall on the autism spectrum enjoy sorting and organizing; others love working from a visual chart that tells them what comes next. Whatever individual strengths your child has, play them up when doing a household project so they can participate. If they enjoy sorting things, let them help you clean out the cabinets and give clear instructions on how to organize the contents (this is a great chore for the garage; if you have several loose nuts, bolts, and screws--and if your child is of the age where they can handle such items--give them empty baby food jars and have them sort each type into a different jar).
Remember that the goal is not to have your child do things the way you would do them, necessarily, but rather to give them the tools to work hard and see the positive results of that work. Try to stay patient and give them lots of support and positive feedback when they are successful. This will build their confidence and lead to more independence and future projects.
By Trevor Pacelli
I have never respected Sesame Street as much as I do now that they've added Julia to the cast. Over the years of watching the show in my early days and laughing at the skits as an adult while pulling them up on YouTube, I saw it as just a really good children's program that was popular enough to last nearly fifty years. But now, after seeing all the hard work and research they put into creating their first autistic muppet, as explained in the above video from a 60 Minutes feature, I can see that they are so much more than just a really good children's program.
I have been watching the interviews and "making of" features surrounding Julia, and all I saw was a tremendous leap forward in the autism community's public normalization. They said plenty about how portraying autism in a children's program in a way they can understand was a challenge, as autism is different with so many people. They even addressed it in the episode that debuted Julia, but emphasized the commonalities of autism: a delay in response, a lack of eye contact, speech delay, peculiar hand motions, a unique way of doing things, and a sensitivity to noise.
What I like best is in the way Julia interacts with her friends Abby and Elmo, they each know that she does things in a more "Julia" kind of way, but that doesn't mean they can't be friends with her. They just find common ground with their interests. Abby and Julia both love to blow bubbles, so that's how they play together. Elmo and Julia both love to sing, so that's how they play together.
As a bonus, the Sesame Street producers made the wise decision to make their autistic muppet a girl, teaching kids how there are girls on the autism spectrum, despite statistics proving it's more common with boys.
There are so many children's programs out there that are so drab, creepy, and demeaning of their audience's intelligence. They speak down to kids and assume that are only capable of noticing bright colors and silly noises. Not only is it detrimental to their development, but it annoys the parents who have to watch it with them as well. But not Sesame Street. While browsing through YouTube, I was so amazed at how funny their skits are, and how they keep making strides to keep the Sesame Street brand modern with the changing times; they care just as much about educating the parents as their kids! I lately just saw that the show has tackled other difficult issues that other children's shows would not have the courage to discuss, including racism, death, and even 9/11. Now they've done something wonderful that I can't recall any other children's programs attempting, and I hope that this leads to many other fantastic opportunities to normalize autism in the minds of our youth.
For a book that helps children understand autism in their classmates, read my sister's book, The Kindergarten Adventures of Amazing Grace: What in the World is Autism?
By Patty Pacelli
For children on the autism spectrum, start career planning as soon as your child starts developing interests. The elementary school years are perfect for this, but at least by age 14. Taking note of their interests, especially their passions, can help them pursue and cultivate them. If they talk about dreams that seem unrealistic, encourage them anyway. You never know what they will be capable of as they grow and develop.
Take their interests a step further by finding household tasks or volunteer work that will help them explore and develop their passions while learning good basic work skills and lead to independence and better employment.
For more about preparing your child with autism for the workplace, check out Six-Word Lessons for Autism-Friendly Workplaces, in paperback and e-book.
By Trevor Pacelli
Everybody is required to learn about history as they go through elementary school, middle school, and high school. They learn about the history of various countries around the world and why it is relevant to us today. They also learn about America's history and all of the important events and people that formed our country. Many of many of the people I grew up with seemed to grasp and understand the subjects we were learning, including the political issues concerning the government today. But as for me, I never paid any attention to history subjects, and today I can hardly recall anything I learned. I do remember my U.S. history classes talking about the Mayflower, the Westward movement, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, America's presidents, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and many other subjects; but the details are as foggy to me now as they were at the time I was taught them.
I understand why it is important to know about our country's history: so that we realize how we got here and what to do with the future of our country. But when I was younger, I did not grasp it nor care to learn. I think back to the other kids in my class, and they all picked up on the subject and knew why it was relevant, while I just sat there completely lost. Why was this so?
Having autism meant that I was always in my own individual world, absorbed in my own thoughts and uninterested in reality. This was especially so when I was much younger, when the thing that I was most concerned about was watching SpongeBob Squarepants at 8:00 that night. Even as a teenager I had no desire to know who John Hancock was or what the Civil Rights Movement was all about. This is a very common thing for anyone growing up on the spectrum: having little to no response to terms of reality.
This is still true to me today. I virtually never follow the news, and even when I do I am not responsive to it. I feel like I have to force myself to read a news article in order to feel educated about what's happening in the world, yet many of the articles on breaking news are written in a style that I am unable to relate to because of the subject matter. The only things that happen in the media that I can actually fully grasp are things related to movies. This is something that I plan to change about myself.
I wish that I paid attention in school when I was growing up, and I wish that I actually cared about what I was being taught. But gladly, I have improved on that now with the college courses I'm taking. As far as knowing about U.S. history, I still wish I could return to what I was instructed in the past so I could know my country better. In studying film this past year, I learned that every movie reflects the time that it was made; which means that studying film means knowing what was happening in America from the 1920s up until now. I have heard about several events in America's history during this time that I have a little knowledge about, such as World War II, the coming of television, the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal, and the 911 terrorist attacks. But I wish to learn more and become more of an integrated member of society, and not always secluded in my own world. So I have already made plans to change that: I will be taking a course in the fall about German media in the 1940s.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.