RAISING A CHILD WITH AUTISM (MY EXPERIENCE)
It is not easy raising a child with Autism. Not many people today know about Autism and I think to those parents like me who are raising children with autism, the internet is their refuge. One of the most top searches in Google, Autism remains an unsolved mystery and to be honest, no medicine can cure it according to scientists and doctors. Autism is a spectrum where the severity of the symptoms and type differ from one individual to another. According to Wikipedia, the Autism spectrum encompasses a range of neurodevelopmental conditions, and individuals typically experience difficulties with social communication and interaction and may also exhibit restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Examples of these behaviors are stacking and lining up objects but it may not be the case with other children. Symptoms are typically recognized between one and two years of age. In the case of my son, he didn’t talk fluently until about 3 and a half years and his words and speech are still limited compared with children of his age. I was thinking about what would be the best early interventions and programs for children with Autism?
EARLY INTERVENTION FOR AUTISM
Luckily in Japan, the government health workers are always monitoring the development of the child from birth until school age. When I brought my son for his regular check-up in the health center, the staff noticed his speech delay and that there was “something wrong” with him which needs consultation from a child development specialist in a rehabilitation center for free. Later, he was diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, and from that starts his regular speech and ABA therapy twice a month (we live in the rural part of Japan so sessions are limited). Aside from his speech and behavioral therapy, he goes to kindergarten daily to socialize, play and build his daily routine by adopting group rules, knowing about time, and physical activities. The speech and behavioral therapy help increase his vocabulary and managing his behavior like taking turns and longer attention span. It helps his fine motor skills as well by doing arts and crafts. His three years in kindergarten definitely helps him adjust to the group, social interaction, and simply his daily routine that helps him get ready for elementary school life.
DIET, SLEEP, AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Diet plays an important role for children with Autism. As much as possible, homemade cooked food is best for them and if possible, avoid processed foods especially those high in saturated fat and sugars. It is not easy to feed these children because mostly, they are picky eaters and would rather stick to a few types of foods and they love repetitions as well. Introducing a new menu for my son is really hard so I think I wanted to be more creative and innovative for the food that I wanted to serve him. There are a lot of children’s food recipes on the internet and I mostly give him vegetables, fish, and fruits. He has issues with asthma and skin allergies as well so foods that will trigger allergies must be avoided. I also heard about the gluten-free diet but it is best to consult with a doctor. I tried to feed him with gluten-free kinds of pasta and bread and for me, it improves his skin condition and behavior as well.
Fortunately for me, my son doesn’t have sleep issues as I put him to sleep very early during kindergarten. He doesn’t wake up in the middle of his sleep unlike some children with Autism so he wakes up fully refreshed and excited to go to kindergarten every day. There was no medication for sleep as well and I think the secret for this is physical activity in the daytime and a hot bath before going to sleep.
Physical activity is important for him as he is an outdoor type of kid who loves open spaces. This will release his energy and improves his gross motor skills. When he was about 2-3 years of age, I let him ride a scooter and bike for toddlers and over time, his balance and coordination improve that he was able to ride a bike without supporting wheels at the age of four. aside from riding a bike, I let him play ball games too. Physical activity improves the quality of sleep for children so don’t miss this part of their daily routine.
ACADEMICS AND SCHOOL LIFE
My son is in the fifth grade and goes to a mainstream school. He attends a special needs class on selected subjects that he is struggling with and sometimes he attends the mainstream class for music and physical education. He makes friends with both pupils from mainstream and special ed classes. He never skips going to school every day and does his homework every time he goes home. I think this is a great way to build his routine and this is very helpful for him preparing in the future for adult life. The teacher also makes it a point to communicate with me every day regarding his daily school life.
Bullying also is common in children with autism and it can be handled by communicating with the teacher and school principal as well as the bully. Enrolling your children with ASD in mainstream schools is all about inclusion and it will also create awareness for neurotypical children and society as a whole. So far, by going to school every day, my son develops and improves and education is very important for them.
There are no medications to treat or cure Autism because it is not an illness. Some medications are for separate types of symptoms only not related to Autism such as hyperactivity. It is always best to consult a doctor when planning to have your kids put in medication. For my son, the only medication he takes is for his asthma and skin allergies so this is completely separated from Autism.
Always remember that Autism is a wide range of spectrum and symptoms and treatments may differ from one another. If you found out that your child has Autism-like symptoms, don’t hesitate to bring them to a doctor. The earlier, the better, and early intervention definitely helps the child develop. Always guide them and don’t hesitate to ask for help. I always believe in the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”.