Tips for Parenting a Child with Autism
The shock of finding out your child has autism is life-changing for most parents. But new findings show parents can fare well emotionally and still have a strong bond with their child.Studies into the coping skills of mothers of children with autism confirm that they are more likely to report "poor or fair" emotional and mental health than other moms, but they are also more likely to show remarkable strengths.
Autism and other pervasive developmental disorders (or PDD) typically begin before age 3. They are a complex group of developmental disabilities marked by great difficulty in social interaction and communication. Difficulties on the spectrum range from mild to severe.
If your child has autism, you know how this developmental disorder can disrupt every part of your life -- your relationships, physical and emotional health, and career aspirations. But there is hope and help. Consider the following strategies as you tackle the special challenges and receive the unique joys of parenting a child with autism.
1. Learn All You Can About Autism
2. Get a Strong Social Network
- Emotional: A close friend or family member who is a confidant and whom you trust with your most personal feelings and concerns
- Social: A friend or colleague you enjoy being with and who helps you survive disappointments and shares your victories
- Informational: Your child's doctor, teachers, therapists, or other caregivers you can ask for advice on major decisions regarding his or her treatment
- Practical: A neighbor or close friend who will help you out in a pinch.
3. Teach Your Family About Autism
4. Review the Recommended Autism Treatment Options
- Behavioral training and management. Behavioral training and management uses positive reinforcement, self-help, and social skills training to improve behavior and communication. Many types of treatments have been developed, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH), and sensory integration.
- Specialized therapies. Specialized therapies include speech, occupational, and physical therapy. These therapies are important components of managing autism and should all be included in various aspects of the child's treatment program.
5. Learn More About Behavioral Training
6. Assess Your Child's Need for Medication
- Catapres and Tenex. These medicines are typically used to lowerblood pressure, but are also used to treat impulsive and aggressive behaviors in children with autism. Kapvay and Intuniv, respectively, are longer acting forms of these older agents, that have been FDA approved for use in hyperactive and impulsive individuals.
- Lithium and anti convulsants, such as carbamazepine and valproic acid. Children who are occasionally aggressive may become more stable when using these medicines, although monitoring the level of the drug in the body through regularly scheduled blood tests is required.
7. Learn More About Diet Changes
8. Use Caution With Unproven Therapies for Autism
- The autism treatment is based upon oversimplified scientific theories.
- It benefits more than one condition.
- It provides dramatic and "miraculous" results.
- The only available evidence is based upon a few stories (anecdotal evidence), testimonials, and little or no scientific research.
- Specific treatment goals or target behaviors are not identified.
- Controlled, scientific research is said not to be needed because there are no risks or side effects.
- Immune globulin therapy. An intravenous (IV) injection of immune globulin is based on the assumption that autism is caused by an autoimmune abnormality.
- Secretin. This treatment uses an IV injection of secretin (a hormone that stimulates the pancreas and liver) to manage autistic behavior. Anecdotal reports have shown improvement in autism symptoms, including sleep patterns, eye contact, language skills, and alertness. Several clinical trials conducted in the last few years have found no significant improvements in symptoms between children with autism who received secretin and those who received a placebo.
- Chelation therapy. Mercury exposure as a cause of autism is the basis for this therapy, which uses medications to help the body eliminate the toxins. Children with autism often have a craving for nonfood items or unusual diets that may result in mercury exposure; therefore, mercury exposure may be more of an effect of autism than a cause. Chelation therapy has caused several deaths in the U.S.
- Auditory integration training (AIT). Based upon a theory that autism is caused by hearing problems that result in distorted sounds or over sensitivity to noises, this treatment delivers music through special devices.
- Facilitated communication. This method uses a keyboard to assist communication. It has not been found to be helpful and in some cases has been harmful.
Montes, G. Pediatrics, May 2007.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Autism Fact Sheet."
National Mental Health Information Center: "Children and Adolescents with Autism."
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: "Autism Overview: What We Know."
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: "Autism Research at the NICHD."
National Institutes of Health: "Gene linked to autism in families with more than one affected child."
CDC: "Vaccines and Autism: Important Conclusions from the Institute of Medicine."
CDC: "National Immunization Program: MMR vaccine and autism."
WebMD Medical Reference: "Understanding Autism: The Basics."
WebMD Medical Reference: "Autism Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and More."
WebMD Medical Reference: "Children with Autism: Coping Skills for Parents."
WebMD Medical Reference: "Dietary and Other Interventions."
WebMD Medical News: "Moms of Autistic Kids Cope Well."
WebMD Medical News: "Caution Urged for Autism Treatments."