Your grandson/nephew/friends son has just been diagnosed with Autism. What does that mean? What should I expect? How should I show support? What should I do?
Many families and relatives find themselves wanting to know more about autism or other neurodiversities, so they can best understand, relate and support their loved ones the best way they can. Here's a little taster to help on their journey of understanding.
Acceptance of Different Neurotypes
It is now widely accepted that Autism is a neurotype, a natural genetic variation of the human brain- not a disease and there is growing contention over naming Autism as a 'disorder'.
Just as we accept and embrace different races, genders, and cultures, accepting and embracing different neurotypes is no different.
By learning about Neurodiversity, and further education and promotion we are able to diminish the stigma, change that mindset and create a society that values, respects and celebrates all neurotypes.
Understanding the Challenges and abilities of the Neurodiverse
20% of people now identify as being Neurodiverse. Many changemakers with incredible abilities in modern history identify or are believed to be neurodiverse. People like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Temple Grandin, Steve Jobs, Tim Burton, Alan Turning and Sir Issac Newton are just the tip of a large neurodiverse iceberg.
It's important to recognise the challenges and barriers they face, and support the parents of young kids and teens with Autism and other neurotypes by seeking more information and awareness. Being a parent can be a rollercoaster ride- stress. anxiety and isolation.
By having an understanding of Autism and Neurodiversity yourself, you will be a more effective listener; aid in supporting and validating a wider range of parenting strategies; and offer a more effective support base for your family.
1. Autism is a Spectrum
Autism is not a one-size-fits-all condition. It is a spectrum, meaning that individuals with autism can have a wide range of ideosyncratic abilities and challenges. Some may have exceptional talents in certain areas, while others may struggle with communication and social interaction. It is important to understand and respect this diversity. As the saying goes ‘Great minds don’t think alike’.
2. Early Diagnosis is an important first step
Identifying and diagnosis of the child can not only provide a beginning to understanding the sensory world they are experiencing, but provide and prepare caregivers with a more flexible parental ‘toolkit’ than you would otherwise expect from 'neurotypical' parenting.
Once you see from the lens of a parent with a neurodiverse child, what you might otherwise see as a ‘tantrum’ - you see as a ‘meltdown’, and so with that perspective, compassion through understanding comes more easily, and so is your flexibility to ‘change the rules’ that perhaps you wouldn’t otherwise consider with a neurotypical child. Often a meltdown is to do with being overwhelmed, as opposed to a tantrum based on 'not getting what they want' (a common neurotypical behaviour) , the motive behind the outburst is often different- and so the 'Give an inch-take a mile' saying often doesn't apply when being flexible with changing the 'rules'.
A diagnosis may also help enable and access appropriate funding and carer support and therapy, and the better their chances of developing essential skills and reaching their full potential. Parents urge healthcare professionals and educators to be proactive in identifying and addressing autism at an early age.
3. Sensory Sensitivities Matter
Many autistic children have heightened sensory sensitivities. They may be overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures, tastes and smells. Parents ask for understanding and accommodation in environments such as schools, public spaces, and even social gatherings. Simple adjustments, such as providing a quiet space or allowing the use of sensory tools, can make a world of difference.
Remember, children and adults with Sensory sensitivities may experience the worlds stimuli in a different way to neurotypicals- What sensation or smell that feels 'normal' to one person may be overwhelming to another, so allowances should be considered, understood and respected.
4. Communication can be Unique-Be patient
Autistic children may communicate differently from neurotypical individuals. Some may have difficulty with verbal communication and rely on alternative methods such as sign language or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. It is essential to be patient, listen attentively, and find ways to support effective communication.
5. Inclusion is Key
Parents emphasize the importance of inclusion for autistic children. They want their children to be accepted and valued for who they are, without judgment or exclusion. Inclusive education, inclusive recreational activities, and inclusive communities can provide opportunities for autistic children to thrive and reach their potential. Sensory safe Spaces in schools, at home and in the classroom are really taking off, and it also provides an area where inclusion and understanding can be encouraged.
6. Every Child is Unique
It is crucial to remember that every autistic child is unique. What works for one child may not work for another. Parents encourage individuals to approach each child with an open mind and a willingness to learn about their specific needs and strengths. By embracing this individuality, we can create a more inclusive and understanding society. Again, 'Great minds don't think alike' applies here too.
7. Supportive Networks are Vital
Parents of autistic children often face numerous challenges and may feel overwhelmed at times. They stress the importance of having a supportive network of family, friends, and professionals who can offer guidance, empathy, and practical assistance.
You might be able to provide respite care for your loved ones, or run some errands, and give the parents a chance for a break to recharge.
Understanding and empathy are key when it comes to supporting autistic children and their families. By listening to the insights and experiences of parents, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society for all.
There are also plenty of local and National Autism support groups in NZ, here are some below to get you started.
Autism support Network- on Facebook
The Power of Education
Education is key to fostering understanding and acceptance surrounding Autism and other neurodiversities and help break down stereotypes and misconceptions. We can learn and promote the strengths and talents that autistic individuals possess and how they can contribute to society.
By embracing inclusion, understanding the challenges of being neurodiverse, accepting different neurotypes exist, and acknowledge their abilities, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society for our autistic kids.
Let's work together to build a world where every child feels valued and included!