I’m very sure if you were in my position, you wouldn’t have had any reason to be calm. That very day, I sat across from the psychiatrist, holding my wife’s hand as our two-year-old son played inattentively in the background. “The severity of your son’s autism will likely prevent him from ever being independent. It is very possible that he will never speak or have friends. The co-morbidity of mental retardation will compound these challenges.” The psychiatrist paused and examined our expressions. My wife clenched my hand a little tighter, but she, too, smiled because we knew firsthand that the diagnosis was meaningless: When I was three, a psychologist told my parents the same thing about me.
Maybe if I had not (had this same experience) also been diagnosed with autism, I might have lost my calm as a father at that point. Although I believed that even with tremendous effort, a strategy that works well with one child or teenager may not work with another, I also tried to be at my best mood and hold my calm, being optimistic that it was going to be the same old story.
I alone noticed the tears which dropped from my wife’s cheek as we rode back home. Our son was still very much engaged playing with some toys at the back seat of the car. I could remember our journey back home; it was so solemn, as if we had lost someone so dear to us already.
The both of us were uneasy, but having gathered from my experience, my ordeal with autism, we did our best as regards taking the news with a strong heart. We knew that even if every child with autism can learn to communicate, it might not always be through spoken language. Nonverbal individuals with autism have much to contribute to society and can live fulfilling lives with the help of visual supports and assistive technologies.
Although we tried our possible best, things never seemed the same after that day. The whole house moved in for some re-adjustment. My wife had lessened her work time at confectionery store, myself on the other hand had also stopped working extra hours in a bid to pay more attention to our child, although we had a Nanny who always took care of him.
The presence of autism in my life outgrew my mind a thousand times over. Parenting a child with autism was counter-intuitive. You say and do things you never thought would work, but they do. Years have passed, and our little boy is doing fine, thanks to certain steps we took in managing his condition. Indeed the psychiatrist made a meaningless diagnosis about our son.
Here is a small list of techniques that we used daily to help reduce tantrums, increase understanding, direction following and happiness.
Encourage play and social interaction: Children learn through play, and that includes learning language. Interactive play provides enjoyable opportunities for you and your child to communicate. Try a variety of games to find those your child enjoys. Also try playful activities that promote social interaction. Examples include singing, reciting nursery rhymes and gentle roughhousing. During your interactions, position yourself in front of your child and close to eye level – so it’s easier for your child to see and hear you.
Imitate your child: Mimicking your child’s sounds and play behaviors will encourage more vocalizing and interaction. It also encourages your child to copy you and take turns. Make sure you imitate how your child is playing – so long as it’s a positive behavior.
Focus on nonverbal communication: Gestures and eye contact can build a foundation for language. Encourage your child by modeling and responding these behaviors. Exaggerate your gestures. Use both your body and your voice when communicating – for example, by extending your hand to point when you say “look” and nodding your head when you say “yes.” Use gestures that are easy for your child to imitate.
Leave “space” for your child to talk: It’s natural to feel the urge to fill in language when a child doesn’t immediately respond. But it’s so important to give your child lots of opportunities to communicate, even if he isn’t talking. When you ask a question or see that your child wants something, pause for several seconds while looking at him expectantly. Watch for any sound or body movement and respond promptly.
There is no one thing that works for all children, and there is no one quick fix, however, many of these techniques will work for many children. Whether or not they have autism.